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Cami or Elena?

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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....

Next, she placed 2nd at Clearwater Sprint, her time faster than eight of the 13 winning times in the history of this event. She followed that performance with an even better one, a convincing win at Tri West Sprint.

And finally, her 2nd place finish at Maple Grove Sprint, where she was 11-minutes faster than her 2021 time and only five seconds behind women's winner Grace Busch, whose 1:05:32 was a women's course record.

Though Damon agrees that Cami Eckhoff improved greatly since her 2021 Rookie of the Year season, she did not come as far as Elena, Cami flirted with competitiveness in '21, then became truly competive this year. In terms of taking her place among our state's elite amateurs, Elena was not competitive in 2021, but was truly so in '22. Only 25, she should be a force to be reckoned with on the regional, perhaps even National, tri scene(s) in the years to come.

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CAMI ECKHOFF, 35, Detroit Lakes - Cami came into 2022 off a 2021 season that earned her a Rookie of the Year nomination. This year, her strength and speed took a leap forward and she was able to showcase this improved fitness across both Olympic and Sprint distances, doing so in winning fashion twice. Cami started her season by turning in a 2:14:22 Olympic time at the inaugural Tri West Olympic on a breezy West-Metro day. This very respectable time was good enough for 2nd place behind established local star Christina Roberts, who crossed the finish line only 44 seconds ahead of Eckhoff. Next, Cami won the Alexandrea Triathlon by a whopping 7:14, and this winning effort placed her 2nd among all athletes, finishing just 2:00 behind Kurt Youngdahl. Finally Cami ended her season with a win at the Young Life Sprint on a slightly shortened course. Once again, her winning time placed her 2nd overall, just over two minutes behind the male winner.

Although Cami was on MTN's radar last year, her 2022 results proved she has gotten faster, can race across multiple distances, can hold her own against some of Minnesota's best women and men, and that she does not shy away from throwing down winning times. For these reasons, Matt favors Cami Eckhoff for this year's female Most Improved athlete.

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