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Two star freshmen show depth of ASU triathlon team

Naomi Rufff and Heidi Jurankova find great success in first two collegiate triathlons and look to continue national championship winning streak for the team

ASU freshman Naomi Ruff running at the USA triathlon youth and junior nationals on Saturday, July 30, 2022, at the Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio.

ASU already has a dominant triathlon program winning five national titles in a row and two freshmen are ready to compete and win races along with the rest of the team in the upcoming national championship race on Nov. 12 in Tempe.

Freshmen Naomi Ruff and Heidi Jurankova have thrust themselves into the spotlight, with Ruff winning the first race of the season and Jurankova winning the second.

The 2022 triathlon season kicked off in Denver on Sept. 24 and 25 for the Oktoberfest Triathlon. It was the first collegiate event Ruff and Jurankova competed in. 

"It was a great experience," Ruff said. "I did not know what to expect going into my first race, but everything was organized, and the coaching staff had everything planned out, making it easy for me to focus on the race." 

The organization of the team eventually paid off for Ruff.

"I had a slow transition coming off the bike, but I stayed headstrong, and during the run, I saw the leader ahead of me," Ruff said. "I worked my way up to her, and once I passed her, I was confident I could stay at the front."

Ruff said once she took the lead, she never looked back, not even as she broke the finish line tape to take home the win.

"At first, it was a relief just to finish the hour race," Ruff said. "Then it felt awesome knowing I had won, and being able to go celebrate with my teammates made it feel even more special." 

Jurankova finished the race just 20 seconds behind Ruff in fourth place. She said she was disappointed to miss the podium but turned that into motivation during the team's next race in Stockton, Missouri, on Oct. 15 for the NCAA West National Qualifier.

The race came down to two ASU triathletes, Jurankova and junior Amber Schlebusch, who were side by side in the final mile. 

"It was nice because there was no pressure since the team has a winner either way," Jurankova said. "I gave it my all at the end of the race, and Amber slowed down, so I was able to pass her right before the finish line." 

For Jurankova, the win was more than just crossing the finish line. 

"I raced in Europe this summer almost every week, but I did not win any races," Jurankova said. "Then coming to ASU and finding time for school work, studying and becoming an adult have all been difficult to manage. Getting this win gave me such a sense of pride and relief I could not hold back my emotions after winning." 

Jurnakova said tears ran down her face as she celebrated with the team and later called her parents, letting them know she had won.

Even with both athletes having such early success, they joined with different backgrounds. 

Jurankova, who grew up competing in triathlons with her family, had years of experience competing around Europe. Head coach Cliff English said she handles herself in a European, business-like manner.

On the other hand, Ruff has only been competing in triathlons for about three years, but has a strong background in running and swimming. English said she is very driven and soft-spoken.

Ruff and Jurankova have similar goals going into the national championship race: try to get on the podium. But at the end of the day, they want to have the best race possible and help the team win another national championship.

English said he wants them to build on the season they have already accomplished. 

"Both have had a brilliant season, and I want them to continue to take it a day at a time," English said. "They have been incredible additions to the team, and I'm so happy to have them for the future, which looks great for us."

Edited by Walker Smith, Piper Hansen and Luke Chatham.

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Bennett SilvynSports Reporter

Bennett Silvyn is a reporter for the sports desk at The State Press. He has previously worked for Walter Cronkite Sports Network and FC Tucson.

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