Breaking Down the Top Teams at 2023 NCAA Triathlon Nationals: Favorites, Contenders, and Hopefuls
Updated: Nov 12
NCAA Triathlon Nationals will be hosted in Tempe, AZ on November 11th. Last year's race was truly spectacular to witness from a fans perspective. The DI race last year had the following team results: 1st - ASU - 239 pts 2nd - Queens - 230 pts
3rd - Denver - 194 pts
4th - South Dakota - 159 pts
5th - San Francisco - 145 pts
Amber Schlebusch won the individual race after making the lead breakaway and running a 17:32 5k time. Two total athletes broke 18:00 on the run last year and six total athlete broke 19 minutes on the run.
In my Nationals Prediction Formula, assuming the course distance is accurate, I have 4 athletes running sub 18:00 this year, and 23 breaking 19:00 based on their regional qualifier results. This means the field is significantly deeper than last years event on the run. This is largely in part due to the the format changing to a "A heat" and "B heat" format instead of separating DI, DII, and DIII into 3 different races. Therefore, the "A heat" has the fastest 99 girls in the nation all in one single race.
More depth in a field means if a team's 5th place scorer has an off day, then that team will be greatly effected in the points standings assuming nobody else steps up and has a better than expected performance. Also, the 6th place finisher of each team serves as the "tie-breaker" in the case of a tie. "A Heat" Teams based on CTCA rankings: 1. Arizona State University
2. Queens University
3. University of San Francisco
4. University of Denver 5. TCU
6. University of Arizona
7. Lenoir-Rhyne University
8. Wingate University
9. University of South Dakota
10. East Tennessee State University
11. Colorado Mesa
13. Drury University *(had 5 individual athletes qualify for the "A heat")
Data based on West and East Regionals:
Times are base on the average of top 5 scorers at each regional qualifier*
Gold = 1st
Grey = 2nd
Bronze = 3rd
Blue = 4th
Green = 5th
White = 6th
HOPEFULS: Teams Aiming For 7th - 13th
Wingate University: In a fierce back and forth battle with LRU for that DII title. They swim and bike better than LRU, but average run times are slower. If race comes together then it favors LRU. Wingate will be hoping to push the pace on the swim bike without pulling LRU athletes up.
University of South Dakota: One of the few teams in this category with a individual "front runner" aiming for a top 5 overall. But they do have a bit of a large gap between their 1st and 5th scorer. If they can narrow that gap it gives them a better chance of moving up the rankings.
East Tennessee State University: Swims well (3rd in East), that should be helpful for Nationals. Despite being ranked 10th they had a non-scorer at regionals outscore their scorers so that should jump them up a few slots assuming that athlete made the national team. I think they have a very good chance to crack the top 8 regardless of rankings.
Colorado Mesa: Great showing at West Regional to earn a "A heat" qualification slot, but the swim gaps out of the water will make it difficult to move up the ranks in a championship caliber field.
NAVY: First year program who had a great showing at the East Regional Qualifier to even make the "A-heat". Coach Billy also has a very strong history of getting his programs ready to peak for Nationals on the club side prior to joining NCAA. Swim being a strength (tied 4th in East) should help them significantly in a championship style field.
Drury University: Incredible job to have 5 athletes qualify individually and get to experience the "A-heat". Helps increase their chances of a podium in the very competitive DII podium battle.
CONTENDERS: Teams Aiming For 3rd-7th
University of San Francisco: One of the teams with the highest upside but also a very low downside depending how the race plays out. Arguably strongest cycling team in the nation alongside ASU and QU. Molly and Kira should make the break away and I expect them to push the entire ride. Gillian, Heidi, and Maite should be pulling the main chase group with some strong QU cyclists. It will be interesting if that "main chase" is a large group, if it is I am interested to see if USF can split the group and dislodge some "runners" from the group in the process of chasing down the break away and pretty much secure their podium spot. This team is VERY dangerous if the race plays out in their favor and appears to be getting faster at each race similar to ASU and QU.
University of Denver: Another dangerous team flying a bit under the radar. They swam great at regionals, but had a couple athletes fall off the main group. If they can hold the main chase group, and have their superstar in the break, this team can surprise a lot of people. A "wet run" favors their strengths, and Maira Carreau's run split at East Regionals was a 17:06! Watch out!
TCU: Another first year of "racing" program who opened the season with a huge win over ASU. Did not look as strong at the West Regional Qualifier so will be looking to bounce back into early season form. Swim appeared to be a weakness at regional qualifier compared to teams in this category. Their entire race depends how many can make the "main chase group" which may merge into the lead pack. If they get 5 in that group, they should outrun multiple teams in this contender category on paper and place top 5. If Elena makes the main chase pack that helps them a lot. But at Nationals, in a deep field, 5-15 seconds off in the water at regionals can easily become a 25-35 seconds.
University of Arizona: New program who is tied for fastest swim team in the nation. They should be in a great spot out of the water. However, big questions on bike ability / skills. If their team can hang on to the main chase pack and keep 1-2 in the break it increases their top 5 odds significantly. But a few of their scorers have fallen off of packs this year despite very good swims. Tend to race with complete opposite strategy of TCU. We will find out if the coaching staff were building toward nationals this entire time and able to help that bike skill gap + run ability or if they are simply a strong swim team at this time.
Lenoir-Rhyne University: Gave them the slight upper hand over Wingate to move into contender category. Their run times are very impressive but they need athletes to swim well and not lose contact on the bike. This team can surprise some people, as they already beat Queens University of Charlotte earlier in the year. It all comes down to execution and their swim. High upside if they can step up the swim but big downside if they miss that main chase pack. As stated for TCU, at Nationals, in a deep field, 5-15 seconds off in the water at regionals can easily become a 25-35 seconds.
FAVORITES: Teams Who Can Win
Arizona State University: The clear favorite to win. Top 4 are incredible well rounded. Deepest team in the field. In my opinion tied as the best swimming team, and the fastest cycling team in the nation. I expect them to try and put 3-5 athletes in a elite break away and push the pace (depending who is selected to the team). The scary part for everyone else: I think they still win if its a large 30-40 athlete main group that becomes a "running" race. A large pack hurts Sidney and Faith on paper, but elevates Naomi and Heidi on paper. Multiple ways to win, few ways to lose, they will be very difficult to beat baring a mechanical. Its easy to hate on teams that constantly win in sports, but Coach Cliff English has proved time and time again to always get his team ready for Nationals.
How they win: Put 4+ in break away and push the pace wire to wire, execute their game plan. How they lose: Need one of the top 5 on paper to have a "off-day", also need Faith to miss the break away.
Queens University of Charlotte:
The only team with a decent chance at beating ASU on paper. Appears to be much stronger in the water this year compared to last year and the fastest (5 girl average), I expect Beth and Cara to be top 5 out of the water and make the break away. If Sam + Livia also make the break that helps QU a LOT. Coach Sonni Dyer has developed this into the strongest run team in the nation on paper. If they have only 2 in the break they are in trouble for the overall win. If the entire front end of the race comes together, it helps Queens.
How they win: Put 4+ in the break away and push pace entire race. Or hope it all comes together into a running race and need Cara and Emma to run very strong. How they lose: Only 2 make it into the break away & race does not come together.
A few things to consider: The SWIM START: 99 girls on a start line with a right hand turn very early in the race. This will cause a lot of chaos. Athlete with natural 100-200m speed will be at a big advantage. Those who are more "pure" distance swimmers might get beat up. This makes "predicting" a race on paper virtually impossible because it can flip a couple elite swimmers into to a chase pack, and vice versa.
Returning teams: ASU, Queens, Denver, and USF appear to be getting better the longer the season goes. You can tell their coaching staff have "been here" before and are attempting to peak in November, even at the expense of winning races in September. If those teams place top 4 overall, we will see that experience does indeed matter.
JT Rodgers Wave1 Performance
*Disclaimer: races are never won on paper, I simply enjoy analyzing the data and trying to highlight teams chances. However, I wish everyone the best of luck, and it is my goal to try and help get NCAA Triathlon to Championship Status.