Accomplished ASU women’s triathlon team attracting large-scale interest

ASU triathlete Katie Gorczyca competes for Arizona State’s team and the U.S. national team. The Sun Devils are coming off a national title. (Photo by Eric Newman/Cronkite News)

TEMPE — The Arizona State women’s triathlon team took no time to see success at the NCAA level, and the Sun Devils already are tasked with repeating as national champions in just their second season.

Following the team’s inception in 2016, ASU became the first triathlon team in the Pac-12 but had just seven athletes on the roster. Now, the roster of 13 is off to a hot start, having taken first place, and the top seven individual spots, at the NCAA Central Regional Qualifier in Naperville, Illinois on September 4.

Competitions consist of a 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike and 5-kilometer run.

With such early success, and a limited amount of triathlon teams in the NCAA, coach Cliff English said that the challenge is not finding recruits but merely sorting through the plethora of talent looking to join.

English, who has coached at the last four Summer Olympics, said that since the program began last year, he has had over 300 email inquiries about joining the Sun Devils.

“I think people right now that are interested in collegiate sport are coming to us,” he said, “We’re in a very fortunate situation because we’re kind of the one Pac-12 D-1 school, so everyone wants to come here.”

One of the returning triathletes, Katie Gorczyca, who placed second overall at the 2016 Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championship on the winning Sun Devils team, is also set to compete with Team USA at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Rotterdam starting Thursday.

She said that other athletes, both at international and domestic events, have made distinct efforts to get information from her about the university, possibly hoping to ind their way onto the team.

“People will come up to me and talk to me about ASU because there’s a lot of people interested in the program and seeing how we’ve developed. And of course I like talking about it because I love the program, I love the team, and the school and everything so of course I’ll hype it up,” she said.

Gorczyca is one of three athletes competing at the Grand Final in late September, as ASU will have two representatives racing for Team Canada as well. In order to maintain the individual and team success of ASU, English has been tasked with maintaining the training schedules and demands of different athletes competing not just as Sun Devils but internationally as well.

He and assistant coach Erin Densham create individual practice sessions for them, depending on their fitness needs for the immediate future as well as their past races, which may vary among the competitors.

“Sometimes it will be just as simple as having a different effort that we’re expecting. Right now Katie (Gorczyca) is getting ready to go so she’s kind of pushing a little more. Other girls just race, so they’re kind of recovering a little more,” English said.

With such a talented roster, spots at the top of the roster are extremely competitive, as only seven triathletes compete at the varsity level in a meet.

Where a team might normally divide, and resentment might foster between those competing for the valuable spots, triathlete Charlotte Ahrens, a sophomore from last year’s championship team, said the competition makes each of the athletes better.

“It’s always great to have more girls, more teammates on a team, because you push each other in practice, but also in races you can work together,” she said.

Now, with the team succeeding, English and his team hope that the sport continues to grow around the country.

With over 40,000 registered triathletes around the country, collegiate triathlon does not have nearly enough programs to accommodate the competitors. In 2015, USA Triathlon presented eight grants to develop NCAA programs. However, there are still only 13 universities with a varsity program, including ASU and schools like East Tennessee State and Concordia University-Wisconsin.

“As an NCAA sport I wish there was more schools that I could tell people to go to now, because I want that competition as well,” English said.

For Gorczyca, having more competition would only serve to make winning sweeter. She will have another chance to shine at the end of the month for the Sun Devils, as ASU’s next official competition will be Sept. 30 at the Western Regional Qualifier in Berkeley, California.

“I mean this is something I’ve heard Michael Phelps say, and it’s really inspiring I guess for me. You want to go out there and race the best competition possible because when you win, the victory is much more rewarding,” Gorczyca said.