MSUB Triathlon

Editor's note: MSUB Release .

BILLINGS, Mont. – When sophomore Madisan Chavez sprinted into the water at the Southern Hills Triathlon two years ago, she was not only kicking off her first triathlon as a college athlete, but also living out the first moments of the Montana State University Billings women’s triathlon team.

Fittingly, she and the rest of the team will return to the same race in Hot Springs, S.D. this weekend to kick off the 2021 MSUB triathlon campaign, which will be the team’s second full length season in program history because the 2020 fall season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m excited to have a fall season,” Chavez, the lone returner from last season and the elder stateswoman of the team, said. “I feel a lot more motivated coming into this year knowing what I am capable of doing. Last year I wasn’t aware of what I could. Now that I know what I can do, I trained more this past summer with more swimming and focusing on most of the things I was too scared to do.”

Plenty has changed since the last time the Yellowjackets have competed in the fall, but Chavez and third-year head coach Kevin Bjerke have remained. In spite of the difficulties the team had without a fall season last year, Bjerke called the time off a blessing, since it gave Chavez more time to recover from a hip injury without having to worry about missing races.

“In a way, it was a little bit of a blessing for the team to have time to heal last fall,” Bjerke said. “But we got in some awesome races and good travel opportunities in the spring. I actually think we were able to carry some of that spring momentum into this fall. Having a set fall schedule with more than two competitions this fall is fun to think about and keep us motivated.”

Chavez, however, won’t extra motivation outside of the goals she set for herself. She has her eyes set on becoming an All-American at the NCAA National Championships, which are held once again at the Tempe Town Lake in Tempe, Ariz. For Chavez, this accomplishment would be even sweeter, as her family travels to her races whenever they can – plus her aunt lives in the Phoenix area, giving her even more people in her corner during that race.

“I want to be an All-American at nationals,” Chavez said. “So I want to do more running and whatever it takes. For all of the hard workouts we’re having this year, my mindset is right and I’m ready for them.”

To get to nationals, however, the road will look differently than it has in years past. This season, the NCAA implemented a qualification system, plus will give out auto-bids to the top eight varsity teams and the top 20 athletes at each NCAA National Qualifier. From Bjerke’s perspective, the added caveats don’t change the team’s approach to training.

“Our goal is to be as fast as we can all season long, so it doesn’t change anything,” Bjerke said of the new qualification process. “Going to nationals is still the goal, no matter what it takes to get there.”

This year, Chavez will be joined by true freshman Izzy Siegle, a fellow Montanan who has an extensive background in not only running cross country and distance events in track, but also swimming. Siegle and Chavez have quickly become reliable training partners; so far, Siegle’s quick learning and attitude have left an impression on Chavez.

“She’s a little bundle of joy,” Chavez said. “She’s a good swimmer and you can tell she knows what she’s doing in the pool. It’ll be exciting to see what she does in her first triathlon because she’s picking up everything pretty quickly.”

Bjerke also lauded Siegle’s fighting spirit and her determination during practices as she steps out of her comfort zone on the bike.

“I can tell she’s a little fighter,” Bjerke said of Siegle. “The first time we went on a hard bike ride, despite being on a bike that’s three times heavier than the ones other girls have, she fought all the way up the big Rims hill and never gave up on herself. It’s fun to see she have a fighter, and once we add the confidence of the training to that mentality, it’ll be fun to see those things come together.”

For this weekend’s race, however, Chavez noted she wants to focus on her swim at the start. Chavez, who favors cycling over the sport’s other two disciplines, also embraces the challenge of being more aggressive in the water this season.

“In practice I swim well, but I think when it comes to swimming in a race, it’s so different,” Chavez said. “You have a wetsuit on and you’re in the open water.”

“My goal is to have a good swim and a good start. I think the race will be better throughout if I have a good start.”

Bjerke echoed Chavez’s sentiment, citing that a more aggressive approach at the start could be carried throughout the entire race.

“Madi is really good at easing into harder workouts – which I think is a good thing because that lends to a really good workout where you don’t burn yourself out at the beginning,” Bjerke said. “But it’s difficult to ease into a triathlon because of the rush at the start. I’m glad she wants to have a good swim off the bat because that’s exactly the goal I had in mind for her this weekend.”

This Saturday, the team travels to Hot Springs, S.D. for the Southern Hills Triathlon, which is set to start at 6 a.m. Chavez is the lone team member with experience at this race; she finished fifth in her age group (and seventh overall) with a 1:21:54.3 in her collegiate triathlon debut on Aug. 31, 2019.