Cami or Elena?


Though there was no shortage of viable female Most Improved candidates last season, both Matt and Damon agree that  the MI honor should go to either ELENA HENGEL or CAMI ECKHOFF.  Matt chose to favor Eckhoff, so Damon was tasked with arguing on behalf of Hengel.

ELENA HENGEL, 25, Wayzata - At first glance Elena's 2021 resume looked like it deserved to be considered for a Rookie of the Year nomination. A second look told a different story. Though she podiumed in two races--2nd at Maple Grove Sprint and 3rd at Turtleman Sprint--her times were not competitive from a historical perspective. At Maple Grove, her time was 1:16:39, a result than wouldn't have cracked the Top 10 this year, or in most prior years.

At Turtleman, her time would have been eight minutes slower than this year's winning time. Still, it was her first year, and she had shown "promise."

She certainly delivered on that promise in 2022. Her first race produced a win in a fast 1:06:10 at Buffalo Sprint, the 4th best in the seven-year history of the current course. She follwed that with a 3rd place finish at Lake Minnetonka, where she was ten minutes faster than her 18th place finish there in 2021....

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AJ, Preston, Heather & Maggie...



Who do Matt and Damon believe is the 2022 Male Triathlete of the Year? They are still discussing this, and agree that there are two especially strong candidates, but neither are ready to name the TOY yet. Here, in alpha order, are the two athletes and their 2022 resumes under consideration:

- AJ MANNING, 34, Fargo (photo) - AJ had a spectacular season, winning three (Amateur title at Buffalo Olympic, Course Record at HyVee Sprint, and CR at Green Lake Olympic) of the five regional races he entered. His 14th overall place at Olympic Nationals (2:00:16) also helps his case. He set two course records, one of which is a slam-dunk POY nominee, and in his two confrontations with fellow TOY frontrunner Preston Youngdahl, he is 1 - 1.

- PRESTON YOUNGDAHL, 32, Plymouth - On Minnesota soil, Preston won four of the five races he entered, and placed 2nd in the other. His course record at Clearwater Olympic and amateur title at Maple Grove Olympic are POY nomination-worthy. He also lowered his personal half-iron best, posting a 4:12 (6th place overall) at Ironman 70.3 Madison...

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Andrew or Stuart?




Matt and Damon agree the STUART GILDEA and ANDREW KERSHAW are the two strongest candidates for 2022 Male Most Improved, though Damon is not convinced that PRESTON YOUNGDAHL shouldn't be included here. Like AJ MANNING and ANDY ZABEL, Youngdahl brought an elite resume into the season, whereas Gildea and Kershaw made the leap from being "solid" performers to elite ones. Damon argues that while Youngdahl was a consistent winner at sprint and Olympic distance during his years in Louisiana, his 70.3 efforts were "medium dazzlle" by comparison. Since his return to Minnesota, his Sprint and Olympic winning continued, and Damon would argue that he had gotten faster since coming north, but his PR at 70.3 improved by 12-minutes.

Still, Youngdahl's 2022 performances, though elevated, did not surprise anyone, whereas Gildea's and Kershaw's did. So, Matt was tasked with arguing on Gildea's behalf for MI, and Damon will give reasons for favoring Kershaw.

KERSHAW - Damon believes that if a 2022 Team Minnesota were to be announced, Gildea would rank above Kershaw. But because Stuart, an Iowan who didn't relocate to Minnesota until 2021, had earlier results (2019) that portended his rise to elite status, whereas Kershaw's had a steeper climb to a claim a place among our region's elite amateurs....

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Grace or Bella?


Matt and Damon agree that the race for female Junior of the Year is between ISABELLA BUENTING, 19 (photo L), and GRACE BUSCH, 19. Matt favors Grace. Damon gives the slightest edge to Bella. Here are their respective arguments:

Damon chose to evaluate Bella's 2022 resume, race by race: 

- Buenting's 4th place / 1st Junior at Lake Minnetonka is a "solid" performance. She placed higher in the past (3rd in 2019) and has gone faster (1:13:15 - junior course record, also in 2019) but LMT's swim was long this year, adding 3-4 minutes to the typical times for the frontrunners. So, Bella's 1:18 translated to a 1:14 effort. Solid.

- Bella podiumed at Pleasant Prairie Sprint (WI) and DeGray Lake Sprint (AK). After researching the resumes of the women who finished ahead of her in both events, Damon concluded that she once again turned in "solid" performances.

- Then there was her performance at Legacy Sprint in California. Damon considers this result to be the premier effort by a female junior this year. Not just solid, it was outstanding. She placed 5th overall behind some serious athletes, including former pros MICHELLIE JONES, the winningest professional triathlete in history, and former Olympic triathlete (2008)  JULIE ERTL. The race was won by JENNA HAUFLER, whose Olympic and 70.3 results over the past two season have been outstanding. Placing 3rd was BRITTANEY WYSZYNSKI, whose overall tri resume is even more impressive that Haufler's...

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2022 Performances of the Year...


This post is a cursory look at possible (amateur) Performance of the Year nominations. Only a few performances are highlighted here because both Matt and Damon agreed that these efforts stack up alongside the best in Minnesota multisport history, i.e. performances by the likes of Matt Payne, Dan Hedgecock, Cathy Yndestad etc.

Here are their men's selections:

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