USA Triathlon has announced Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, as the latest school to add women’s triathlon to its varsity sport offerings. The NCAA Division III program will begin practice on August 18, 2019, and will field its inaugural team in competitions this autumn/fall.
“USA Triathlon is pleased to welcome Eastern Mennonite University — a school that not only offers excellent academic and athletic opportunities, but also prioritizes service, social justice and global engagement — to the women’s NCAA triathlon family,” said Rocky Harris, USA Triathlon CEO.
“We are proud of the fact that, with the addition of EMU, prospective varsity triathletes now have eight universities in USA Triathlon’s Mideast Region to choose from.”
EMU was awarded the USA Triathlon Foundation Women’s Emerging Sport Grant, which provides funding to select NCAA membership institutions to develop, implement and sustain women’s triathlon programs at the NCAA varsity level. The funding, distributed over three years, will help offset start-up costs and lay a foundation for the new team.
Leading the new program is Bob Hepler, who also serves as head coach of the cross country and track and field teams at EMU. Hepler spent many years as a competitive age-group triathlete, participating in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, seven times.
“A year ago, women’s triathlon at EMU wasn’t part of the conversations around strategic initiatives for enrolment growth,” said Dave King, Director of Athletics at EMU. “However, the convergence of forces has created the ‘perfect storm,’ and we are very excited about adding this new program.
“Bob Hepler’s knowledge, experience and passion for the sport, along with Shenandoah Valley’s rich biking culture, the interest level of distance runners in triathlon, the increased use of water training for runners, and of course the support from USA Triathlon and funding opportunities from the USA Triathlon Foundation all add up to this being the ideal time to add the sport.”
“There is already an interest in the sport from the women of EMU,” Bob Hepler said, “and we have coaches on campus who are also enthusiastic. There was this small window in time that if EMU acted quickly, we could apply for and receive a grant from the USA Triathlon Foundation that would pay for the first three years of the sport. We needed to act quickly to take advantage of the moment and, with the support of our administration, we did.”
Assistant cross country and track and field coach Joanna Friesen will give time to the new women’s triathlon team. Chad Gusler, a professor in EMU’s Language and Literature Department and accomplished swim coach, will also take on an assistant coaching role.
EMU joins seven other varsity programs located in USA Triathlon’s Mideast Region: Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, N.C., DII), Davis & Elkins College (Elkins, W.V., DII), East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, Tenn., DI), Hampton University (Hampton, Va., DI), King University (Bristol, Tenn., DII), Queens University of Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C., DII) and Transylvania University (Lexington, Ky., DIII).
The NCAA named triathlon an Emerging Sport for Women in 2014, a designation that gives the sport a 10-year window to demonstrate sustainability at the NCAA level. EMU is the 28th school in the United States to add the sport, bringing USA Triathlon closer to its goal of recruiting 40 schools by 2024.
Women’s triathlon is an autumn/fall sport, and the varsity season includes three regional qualifiers followed by the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championships. Races are sprint-distance, featuring a 750m open-water swim, draft-legal 20km bike and 5km run.
Women’s Varsity Collegiate Triathlon Programs (as at March 12, 2019):
NCAA Division I
Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.)
East Tennessee State University (Johnson City, Tenn.)
Hampton University (Hampton, Va.)
University of San Francisco (San Francisco. Calif.)
University of South Dakota (Vermillion, S.D.)
Wagner College (Staten Island, N.Y.)
NCAA Division II
American International College (Springfield, Mass.)
Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, N.C.)
Black Hills State University (Spearfish, S.D.)
Colorado Mesa University (Grand Junction, Colo.)
Daemen College (Amherst, N.Y.)
Davis & Elkins College (Elkins, W.V.)
Drury University (Springfield, Mo.)
King University (Bristol, Tenn.)
Montana State University Billings (Billings, Mont.)
Queens University of Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.)
St. Thomas Aquinas College (Sparkill, N.Y.)
Southern Wesleyan University (Central, S.C.)
NCAA Division III
Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
Concordia University Wisconsin (Mequon, Wis.)
Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.)
Millikin University (Decatur, Ill.)
Milwaukee School of Engineering (Milwaukee, Wis.)
North Central College (Naperville, Ill.)
Northern Vermont University-Johnson (Johnson, Vt.)
Transylvania University (Lexington, Ky.)
Trine University (Angola, Ind.)
Willamette University (Salem, Ore.)