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Stehula, Kelleher Claim USA Triathlon Collegiate National Titles

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Cal Poly’s Chris Stehula and Virginia’s Nicole Kelleher overcame blustery conditions at Buffalo Springs Lake Park to claim individual national titles, and the University of Colorado brought home the overall team crown on Saturday at USA Triathlon’s Collegiate National Championship.

Colorado used a first-place finish in the men’s team standings and a runner-up showing on the women’s side to claim its first overall title since winning three straight from 2003-05. The U.S. Military Academy captured the women’s team crown.

While the teams had to wait until Saturday night’s awards ceremony to learn their finish, there was no doubt about the individual champions. Stehula covered the course in 1:48:54, took advantage of quick transitions and overtook runner-up Cedric Wane of Colorado on the run en route to the title. Wane finished in 1:49:17, while Cal’s Ken Rakestraw rounded out the podium in third in 1:50:35.

Stehula, who had a potential top-10 finish wiped out a year ago due to penalty infractions, took full advantage his opportunity this year. He trailed Wane by nearly 40 seconds after T2 but closed the gap just a mile and a half into the run. Wane held tough over the final four miles, but the veteran Stehula would not be denied his first national title.

“I’ve been thinking about this race since my disappointment last year – every day just like ‘I want to go win this; I want to go win this,'” said the 26-year-old Stehula. “There was so much emotion during the race because I thought I’d lost it during the bike … In the last mile and a half I’m like ‘I think I’ve got this.’ I kept turning around, and I was so excited coming across that finish line.”

Wane, who was third a year ago, claimed his second consecutive collegiate podium but was unable to hold off the hard-charging Stehula. “Cedric was killing it on the bike. He out-biked me by a minute and a half, and he had a 40-second lead on me,” said Stehula. “I thought that the race was over on the bike. I was like ‘I can’t catch him,’ and then just because I got one of those fantastic, really lucky breaks I was able to catch him. I just buried in the first mile and a half on the run and caught up to him.”

Rakestraw, who was fifth in 2009 in Lubbock, notched his second straight top-five finish.

On the women’s side, Kelleher’s time of 2:03:10 was good for a 2-minute victory over 2009 champion Jessica Broderick of Colorado, who grabbed second in 2:05:18. Hometown graduate student Ashley Messoline of Texas Tech finished third in 2:05:38, and last year’s runner-up Ashley Morgan of Army was fourth in 2:06:52.

Kelleher, a former collegiate runner at Dartmouth and SMU, was third off the bike but closed with an even-paced 10-kilometer run to win her collegiate nationals debut. A medical student at Virginia, the 28-year-old Kelleher is unbeaten in triathlon over the past two years after transitioning to the sport. She was the female age group winner of the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C., last September.

“I just kind of ran steady the whole time and just slowly pulled away,” said Kelleher. “I never really made any moves. It was just a 10k, so I like to run that steady. I find that you run fastest if you run even splits.”

A relative newcomer to multisport, Kelleher’s win was a bit of a surprise to some, considering seven of the top 10 from last year’s race, including the entire podium, were back in the field. Kelleher’s goal was a podium finish, and she more than exceeded that feat.

“I’m excited for Virginia … It’s exciting to represent my school. This is such a unique event in that respect,” said Kelleher. “Triathlon is such an individual sport (that) to make it a team atmosphere is a really special thing. This is my last year competing at this race, so I’m just excited about the all the younger people that are coming up and getting into the sport. I think USA Triathlon has done a great job promoting it for younger people.”

Led by the runner-up finishes from Wane and Broderick, Colorado combined for 109 points to outdistance Army (166) and Navy (187) for the overall team win. Cal Poly was fourth (276), and Texas A&M was fifth (298) to round out the top five.

“The program has really developed over the last year. We are so lucky to Mike Ricci as our coach, and we have an incredible amount of respect for him,” said Broderick. “He is a wonderful person and a wonderful coach. To see how far our team has come with him guiding us is amazing. With our work ethic and the ability for us all to push each other, I really think that in the years to come we’re going to be a big threat. We have so much young talent and we work so hard together.”

The CU men placed four finishers in the top 18 to bring home the men’s title with just 39 points. Cal Poly (104) and Army (104) rounded out the top three. Paced by Morgan’s fourth-place finish, Army won the women’s crown with 62 points to edge Colorado (70) and Navy (72).

“I think it’s great to see CU coming back into the mix because I know that we have the history of national championships, so it’s really exciting,” said Broderick. “I’m looking forward to next few years.”

Weather conditions created a few wrinkles Saturday, but the driving rain of the past two days finally broke on race day. However, due to water and air temperatures, the Olympic-distance swim was cut to 750 meters, and the sprint-distance swim was cancelled, creating a bike-run event.

Saturday’s winners relished the conditions. “I like it cold. I like it when it turns into a race of attrition like today, so when it’s a race of survival I do really well,” said Stehula. “I like the tough races, so this was great.”

Kelleher added, “It’s just one of those gut-it-out kind of races that you’ve got to just put your head down and just do the work and not think about it.”

Texans were the victors in the Collegiate Sprint Race, which was an open event. Benjamin Drezek of North Texas claimed the men’s title in 1:03:38, while 30-year-old Lubbock native Jamie Cooper was the first overall women’s finisher in 1:21:19. Ohio State’s Megan Matrka was the top collegiate athlete on the women’s side with a time of 1:22:02.

Overall Team Standings

1. University of Colorado, 109

2. U.S. Military Academy, 166

3. U.S. Naval Academy, 187

4. Cal Poly, 276

5. Texas A&M University, 298

Men’s Team Standings

1. University of Colorado, 39

2. U.S. Military Academy, 104

3. Cal Poly, 104

4. U.S. Naval Academy, 115

5. UCLA, 128

Women’s Team Standings

1. U.S. Military Academy, 62

2. University of Colorado, 70

3. U.S. Naval Academy, 72

4. UC Santa Barbara, 81

5. Duke University, 156

Men’s Overall

1. Chris Stehula (Cal Poly), 1:48:54

2. Cedric Wane (Colorado), 1:49:17

3. Ken Rakestraw (Cal), 1:50:35

Men’s Undergraduate

1. Chris Stehula (Cal Poly), 1:48:54

2. Cedric Wane (Colorado), 1:49:17

3. Ken Rakestraw (Cal), 1:50:35

Men’s Graduate

1. Stephen Munchak (Colorado State), 1:51:40

2. Steven Rosinski (Ohio State), 1:52:21

3. Bradley Gregorka (Illinois), 1:54:39

Women’s Overall

1. Nicole Kelleher (Virginia), 2:03:10

2. Jessica Broderick (Colorado), 2:05:18

3. Ashley Messoline (Texas Tech), 2:05:38

Women’s Undergraduate

1. Jessica Broderick (Colorado), 2:05:18

2. Ashley Morgan (Army), 2:06:52

3. Lauren Goss (Clemson), 2:07:00

Women’s Graduate

1. Nicole Kelleher (Virginia), 2:03:10

2. Ashley Messoline (Texas Tech), 2:05:38

3. Kelley Hess (Wisconsin), 2:13:34

Men’s Sprint Overall & Collegiate Champion

1. Benjamin Drezek (North Texas) 1:03:38

Women’s Sprint Overall Champion

1. Jamie Cooper (Lubbock, Texas), 1:21:19

Women’s Sprint Collegiate Champion

1. Megan Matrka (Ohio State), 1:22:02

Team Spirit Champion

1. Colorado State University

Armed Forces Award

1. U.S. Military Academy

Click here for complete results.

Race recap provided by USA Triathlon.

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