Cami, Elena & Vanessa...


If the MMH Committee decides to name nominees and winners this year, Matt and Damon will favor what they consider three slam-dunk candidates for Most Improved female triathlete. After having studied the resumes of at least a dozen athletes, these are the trio, in alpha order, that they recommend most highly:

CAMI ECKHOFF, 35, Detroit Lakes (photo below) - Runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2021, Cami's speed and competitiveness improved dramatically this season. Her course record win at Alexandria, and her victory at Young Life Sprint are good example of those things. She placed 2nd overall at both races. Granted, those are not super competitive events, but she threw down the kind of fast times that established amateur elites would be proud of. At Alex, she lowered the women's course record by 4:23.

But it was her 2nd place performance at Square Lake Half that sealed the deal for her. Arguably the most challenging 70.3 in our region, she posted a 4:54:16, and sub-5s are rare on that course. The time bettered her personal best at the distance by 16-minutes....

And her 2nd place finish, just 44-seconds behind national talent Christina Roberts at Tri West Olympic was similarly impressive. 

ELENA HENGEL, 26, Wayzata (top photo) - An Equestrian-turned-triathlete, Elena came close to receiving a Rookie of the Year nomination in 2021. Her improvement in 2022 was dramatic, and her proposed nomination was an easy call for Matt and Damon.


Elena's first race of the season produced a head-turning win at Buffalo Olympic. Her time was among the fastest in the history of the race, which she needed to defeat four-time Buff Sprint champ Cheryl Zitur.

Then she podiumed at Lake Minnetonka, placing 3rd behind likely Triathlete of the Year nominees Heather Lendway and Maggie Swanson. Elena's 1:14:33 was more than 13-minutes faster than her 18th place clocking the year before.

She followed that result with fast 2nd place finishes at Clearwater Sprint and Maple Grove Sprint, which bracketed her decisive victory at Tri West Sprint. In 2021, she chased our region's credentialed triathletes. This year she caught-up to them, even managing to win on two occasions.


VANESSA NAGEL, 36, Bloomington - Vanessa podiumed in all three of her regional starts, which included a win at Clearwater Olympic. She was also the fastest Minnesota female at Nationals. Nagel was on her way to an MI nomination in 2021 when her season was curtailed by injury.

Matt and Damon are seriously considering adding GRACE BUSCH, 19, of Mankato to their women's MI nomination recommedations. Her female course record at Maple Grove Sprint, where she outraced Cheryl Zitur and Elena Hengel, plus the fact that the only Minnesota woman who beat her this year is Nicole Cueno, who had a win and a 2nd in her only starts and if it is determined that only two outstanding performances, not the usual three, are necessary for MMH consideration, she would be in the hunt for Master of the Year, were game-changing efforts.

(ED. Damon wants to put Grace Busch on the MI nominations list. Will Matt be persuaded to agree?)