USAT Collegiate Nationals 2008

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After a 1.5-kilometer swim and 40k bike, Steve Sexton embarked on the last leg of the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championship race – a 10K run. Only three more hills, and then a two-kilometer sprint to Cal Triathlon’s FIRST MENS INDIVIDUAL NATIONAL CROWN. But now he had to rely on his teammates – the 34 other members of the Cal Triathlon Team that began the race knowing they wanted more than another second-place finish.

The Bears returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, unwilling to be the runners up for the fifth consecutive year. Paced by Sexton, an Olympic hopeful for the 2012 Games in London – the team swam, cycled and ran their way to the school’s FIRST EVER OVERALL NATIONAL CROWN!

“We just blew the competition away,” sophomore Kenny Rakestraw said. “We talked to (coach Andy Schmitz) the night before the race and we had certain teams to look for and hunt down. If we saw their jerseys we knew we needed to pass them.” The Men’s Team knew to watch out for Navy, which had swept both the Men’s and Women’s title’s last year. But in the end, Sexton had no one left to pass as he claimed top-honors for the men. John Dahlz and Rakestraw rounded out the top three taking 11th and 20th respectively, giving the men their THIRD NATIONALS WIN IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS!

“The level of competition was harder this year,” Timbo Styllinger said. “But this time we finally put everything together.” But for a team win, the Cal women also had to put things together, and veterans were helped by the similar course structure. Nationals were held in Tuscaloosa the previous year, and the bike and swim routes were similar to last year’s competition. “It’s always nice to know what the course looks like and be able to visualize it and prepare for the race with that in mind,” Sexton said.

With the familiar course, the women finished in third – Dianne Charleton, Mary Cate Opila and Robyn Shaffer taking the top-three places, respectively, and helping the Bears end their second-place streak. “At the beginning of this year we were determined to win and that provided a frame for all of our activities,” Sexton said. “The team has gotten a lot more professional in the way that we approach the training.”

And the new work ethic ushered in new leadership. “We hired a new coach who is actually a USA Triathlon national coach,” Sexton said. “He provided us with a more detailed and structured training plan than last year and also taught us running and swimming techniques and transition work. That was more significant in our success this year.”

As a competitive member for the past five years, Sexton has witnessed the program grow from its meager beginnings. “It’s been pretty remarkable,” Sexton said. “In 2000, I went to swim practices and there were only eight or nine people in the pool. Now at swim practices we have 40 or 50 people and our numbers have increased each of the past three years.”

With established numbers and new leadership, the team came together for the first national crown and also earned the triathlon sportsmanship award. “We all had matching uniforms, we put on Kanye West sunglasses,” Kenny Rakestraw said. “We were the only ones that had a strong team. Everyone had a cowbell and I lost my voice right after the race. We yelled for everyone and stayed by the finish line and yelled for every team that went by at the end.”

Stronger than everyone else in the nation

Way to go Nationals Team, and way to go Cal Tri! Go Bears!