On a rainy Sunday morning at the Watauga Dam, the East Tennessee State women’s triathlon team took part in its first home meet, named the “Beware the Bear,” with competition from all over the country including teams from Illinois, Indiana and New York.
“We were very honored to get the opportunity to host an event. We were not expecting Hurricane Florence and it made the weather more challenging on an already challenging course,” ETSU triathlon head coach Janine Pleasant said.
“This is the most technical course in all of the collegiate triathlons. There’s lots of hills, and it forced them to be a little more cautious.”
The race was shortened in all three facets to a roughly 350-meter swim, a 10K bike ride and a 2,500-meter run. The race was already a sprint triathlon, and shortening everything for safety reasons made it a super sprint of sorts.
The top finisher for the Buccaneers was freshman Lane McDonald, who took runner-up honors.
She was a junior national elite triathlete in high school from South Bend, Indiana, who finished eighth at the Junior Nationals last year.
“I’m really not used to the hills yet, being from Indiana where it’s flat, but the run is my strength, so I was really happy to have the legs to catch up and get second,” McDonald said.
“Today was kind of a mess with the horrible weather, course being shortened, but the most you can do is roll with it. That’s all I did today was roll with it.”
McDonald was in the top eight going into the biking portion and was over 45 seconds back of third place going off the bike. She made up a lot of time in a relatively short distance for triathletes and nabbed runner-up by over 10 seconds, finishing in 39:12.
Morgan James was next across the line for ETSU in 40:56 for fifth overall, then Annika Cotner (12th, 44:06) and Hope Zimmerman (16th, 48:10) as the Bucs took four of the top 20 spots.
“This was the Central Regional qualifier and the next race is the East Regional qualifier on October 20, and the national meet is in Tempe, Arizona,” Pleasant said.
“Everybody performed really well today. We came out here and practiced a couple of times and they knew what they were in for, but everyone gave a fantastic effort.”
The women’s triathlon is listed as an “emerging sport” by the NCAA, and there are currently 23 varsity teams across all divisions. ETSU is one of four programs in Division I, with the other 18 evenly spread across Division II and III.
Arizona State was supposed to come to the meet, but its flight out of Charlotte, North Carolina, was canceled due to the hurricane. Overall, there were over 30 athletes competing in the event.
“We were so proud to show off the beautiful, natural scenery of northeast Tennessee to the teams that came. We are so thankful,” Pleasant said.