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Noah & Grace...

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NOAH BILLINGS is only 16 but he has won six regional adult triathlons in the last two seasons. In six regional races, i.e. non out-of-state draft legal  events, in 2022, Billings has three outright wins and four Junior course records...

His win at Maple Grove Sprint was especially impressive. It was fast, in fact, only one athlete had ever gone faster on this six-year-old course, and his margin of victory was capacious: 1:55.

His season-to-season improvements remind us KYLE SWENSON's career trajectory. Kyle is the only Minnesota male junior to make Team Minnesota, which he did twice (2020, 2021), and to be nominated for Triathlete of the Year (2021), the year he was named US Junior of the Year. 

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GRACE BUSCH's emergence has also been fun to watch. The Nineteen-year-old Mankato athlete was the outright women's winner at two of the three regional races she did. The first two events--Fairmont Olympic and Turtleman Olympic--were not highly competitive events, but her splits were impressive and her margin of victory at Fairmont was huge.

At Turtleman, she finished behind NICOLE CUENO, who was undefeated in two starts in 2022 after a five-year layoff.  Grace's swim and bike splits were strong, but her run was off, not nearly as fast as can be expected. Injury? Fatique? In any case, an imperfect performance still yielded an impressive result.

Where Busch truly excelled in 2022 was at Maple Grove Sprint. She not only won the overall women's title, she did so in course record time (1:05:32). More important is that she outraced a strong field, one that included five-time MGS winner CHERYL ZITUR, and emerging star ELENA HENGEL, whose 2022 resume features two wins --Buffalo Sprint and Tri West Sprint--plus podiums at Lake Minnetonka, Clearwater and Maple Grove. 

On paper, Hengel and Zitur were co-faves at Maple Grove. They'd faced each other twice before in 2022, going 1-2 both times; Hengel winning at Buffalo, Zitur winning at Clearwater. A tight race unfolded with Busch beating runner-up Hengel by five seconds. Zitur needed another 39-seconds to secure the bronze medal position

Beating credentialed athletes is a big deal. Busch's victory at Maple Grove may have put her in Junior of the Year contention alongside two-time JOY BELLA BUENTING. Buenting's 2022 resume is good, but she was beaten by Hengel at Lake Minnetonka. Additionally, since 2018 she is 0-3 against Zitur. 

Does that give Busch the edge in the JOY discussion? Not necessarily. Bella's efforts against solid fields at out-of-state races at Pleasant Prairie (3rd) and Legacy (5th) deserves more scrutiny.

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