University of South Dakota Triathlon Team Presents International Lineup
SIOUX FALLS, SD — The University of South Dakota triathlon team is global.
Not only because they are good – which they are – but because they come from all over the world.
Eight of the 11 Coyote women are from countries other than the United States.
Head coach Kyle Joplin had no intention of going international when the school launched the program five years ago.
“It’s not necessarily something we’ve been looking for so much,” Joplin said. “We just get inquiries from all over the world and then just try to find the best athletes we can get here.”
It worked pretty well.
The Coyotes have two second-place finishes and a third in the previous three national championships, where Arizona State University has dominated with five straight wins.
The team has three members from the United States, three from Canada and women from Spain, Germany, Austria, South Africa and Australia.
Andrea Cernuda is a second year USD student who grew up in Valencia, Spain. She was an exchange student living in Washington State and then Boise, Idaho when she decided she wanted to stay in the United States for college.
Options were limited, however, as she also wanted to pursue her passion for triathlon. USD not only has a triathlon program, but it aligns with his desire to pursue studies in biomedical engineering and neuroscience.
She committed to the Coyotes without ever making it to Vermillion, South Dakota, due to restrictions imposed by the COVID pandemic.
Cernuda has no regrets.
“I realized as soon as I arrived here that this team was not comparable to any other team,” she said. “It’s such a great environment for training and also for every other aspect of a college student’s life.”
Women’s triathlon was first approved as an emerging sport by the NCAA in 2014. There are currently 40 programs across the country, which is a key step towards becoming a full-fledged championship sport.
Gender equity requirements in varsity sports make triathlon an attractive option for schools looking for new ways to expand opportunities for women.
“We’re at the numbers we need,” said Joplin, who is also president of the College Triathlon Coaches Association. “A few years ago the NCAA told us that from an organizational standpoint they saw no problem pushing us through. We just need to come down to the numbers. It’s going well and we should begin this process next fall.
USD competes in Division I. South Dakota has another triathlon team, Black Hills State University at Spearfish, in Division II.
The college triathlon is a bit different than what you might see at your local community event or long-distance versions such as Ironman.
They run the sprint distance, which is usually a 750 meter open water swim, 20 kilometer bike ride and 5 kilometer run.
The races are also draft-legal, meaning competitors ride traditional road bikes rather than time trial versions with aero bars. In Ironman and most community events, it is illegal to ride directly behind another competitor to take advantage of the draft.
The ability to draft changes the tactics of the race, putting more emphasis on staying close to the competition during the swim and during the first transition. If a group of runners takes a big lead, it takes more energy for an individual, or a smaller group, to catch up.
There are also strategies in play, depending on how many members of each team form a group and their relative strengths during the race.
This is a fast version of the sport, with winners usually finishing in around 1 hour.
“It makes things exciting,” Joplin said. “It’s not just about being fit.”
But you have to be in good shape.
NCAA regulations limit weekly practice time to 20 hours. That’s a lot of time to dedicate while balancing the demands of school.
Coaches and teachers are flexible with schedules, which helps keep everything running smoothly, said Cass Dalbec, a senior from Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Three of the team members, including Dalbec, are nursing students who must attend clinical sessions in Sioux Falls every Wednesday. This means taking the day off from training and making it up elsewhere, usually on Sunday. And the nursing service helps the three athletes with group teaching.
The team supports each other so that they never feel alone.
“Everyone is pretty far from home. Especially at times like Thanksgiving, when all the American students are gone, the campus is empty and no one is there,” she said. “We are home to each other.”
Dalbec was one of the earliest competitors in collegiate triathlon and has seen it grow over her four years. More athletes she knows from Canada come to the United States to compete for colleges getting into the sport.
“It’s become a much bigger sport than it was when I joined,” she said.
Triathlon is growing internationally.
Despite the international nature of the current team, perhaps the best triathlete to come out of the program grew up just down the street from the DakotaDome in Vermillion.
Maddie Lavin didn’t start sorting out right away. After a few early attempts as a youngster, she turned to swimming and athletics and stayed there.
It wasn’t until her freshman year in college, where she was on the swim team and ran cross-country, that her friends on the triathlon team convinced her to try. the shot.
“I finally decided I was going to give it a try, and then COVID hit,” Lavin said. “It gave me a window of opportunity to start a new sport.”
Lavin excelled, finishing fifth overall in the national championship in 2021.
Today, she is the highest-ranked U23 woman in the United States, the 10th-ranked woman in the United States and hopes to soon be among the top 100 in the world.
The past year has been a whirlwind of training and travel. She spent the summer in Park City, Utah training with a men’s development team and moved to Phoenix, Arizona for the winter.
She raced in Europe, South America and Mexico as well as major races in the United States.
After an event in Missouri later this month, it’s off to the Continental Championships in Uruguay for Halloween, then Thanksgiving in Abu Dhabi for the U23 World Championships.
“I’m happy enough about it that I only did it for a year full-time,” she said.
Not that there weren’t trials and tribulations. There was the first flat in an elite race, then the first crash in Europe that led to a DNF.
Not to mention Lavin’s own expectations to do well.
“I learned so much that I didn’t know you needed to know,” she said.
Triathlon was introduced to the Olympics in 2000 and professional leagues have grown. The legal preview is also suitable for television, with several sports streaming services offering access to events around the world.
The Coyotes’ next competition is Oct. 15 at the Western Regional Qualifier in Stockton, Missouri. The national championships will be held Nov. 12 in Tempe, Arizona.
Joplin said they have big aspirations for another first-place finish, but the fields are getting bigger with more schools coming in and others coming out of Division II.
“We keep getting better, but everyone else is getting better too,” he said. “It’s great for the sport.”