DU Triathlon Head Coach Perkins Q&A

Head Coach Barbara Perkins was named the University of Denver’s first triathlon head coach in program history for the abbreviated 2020 season and recently completed her second full season by guiding DU Triathletes to an exciting fourth-place finish at this season’s NCAA Nationals. We asked Coach Perkins about this past season and her thoughts about the future of DU Triathlon. 

How did your first season go versus your expectations?

The team had a very successful season in our first true season as a team. We won the Smith Mountain Lake National Qualifier which was one of the biggest highlights. To take a Division 1 title in our first year was no small feat. We also won our local Oktoberfest Sprint up in Longmont and swept the top 5 spots on the podium. This was very satisfying to show the world what we could do on home turf. At the end of the season, with a tough training and racing block, we came in 3rd at St. George in some very tough conditions which set us up for Nationals in Arizona. For us to come in 4th place at NCAA’s was a huge success. It is a great building season for us to improve on in the future!

The team had an excellent finish at Nationals but you also had individuals achieve All-American status. Could you tell us about that?

Seven is a full travel squad for each team. So at Nationals, Top Seven is 1st Team All-American, 8-14 is 2nd Team All-American and 15-21 is Honorable Mention. Freya (McKinley) was 9th, Olivia (Ebenstein) was 13th so they were 2nd team. Avarie (Faulkner) was 19th for an honorable mention. Triathlon is also an interesting sport in the fact that because of their performances at Nationals, Freya and Olivia both received their elite licenses and can race professionally.

What did you learn about Collegiate Triathlons that may have surprised you?

The community around the races really makes the sport possible. The volunteers, fans and parents who come to support the races make a huge difference. We had a wonderful support network through family and friends of the team. It would not have been possible without them.

What did you learn about the type of athletes you need to recruit going forward? You had some very good athletes that were not ‘triathletes’. Would you ever recruit non-triathletes now that you have a full year to recruit?

It’s good to have a mixture of both true triathletes and athletes from different backgrounds. The triathletes bring great experience to the table but can still grow. Athletes from other backgrounds are super fun for me to coach personally and to teach them about the sport. I think the girls who came from triathlon backgrounds did an outstanding job of helping their teammates this year too. I would love to continue to recruit both in the future. Triathlon is such a unique sport that not everyone knows about. It’s so exciting to give more women a chance to compete in college and to help them learn about triathlon.

Obviously, Arizona State University has traditionally been the strongest college team. What does DU need to do to close the gap?

The gap to ASU is closing and I think that really showed at Nationals this year. With an Individual National Champion from San Francisco and a bigger mix of athletes throughout the top 10 and top 20. It is getting more competitive every year and the depth of teams are growing. For us to have 3 athletes in the top 20 and achieve All American Honors was huge. We have a very young team, so I think it was a great learning experience to see where we are nationally and what we need to do to improve.

What does the ‘off-season’ look like for you and your team? What particular areas do you need to work on for next season?

The team took a well-deserved week off after the Nationals. A lot of them have been competing nonstop since March of 2021, so it was important for them to get a break. I met with each member of the team individually to talk about their goals and what we need to work on in their off-season. Moving forward, I think breaking into individual focuses will be the key to improvements. We have workouts that we will do together as a team, but within that, everyone has a sport they are stronger in and others they need to work on. We will get back to training as a team in January and will start competing in March. The work never really ends but it is good to get some perspective and think about what we can do to improve.

The fall season is relatively short. How important is training to peak at the right time (NCAA Championships)?

As I mentioned before, the season for the triathlon is very long and grueling. With some of the athletes competing through March and a Junior Elite Series over the summer, it is super important to stay injury-free and continue to maintain a balance through the college season. It was more like a dual meet season with so many races packed into a short period of time. This type of race format takes longer than a lot of other sports to recover from. So keeping a balance of working hard and recovering is also very important. National Championships was the only race we truly rested for through the whole season so it was very important to be healthy and ready to race.

Over the short term, what are the needs of the team in terms of equipment, support? 

We want to continue to build support from the alumni, local community and the University. We don’t have the strong and storied ties that a lot of the other programs have yet. This is the first new sport at Denver in a very long time and we are starting from scratch. The whole Athletic Department is growing and there is a huge demand for resources. With this being our first year, we do not have the same resources yet so it is very important to lay that foundation. One of our biggest goals in the immediate future is to build out a spin studio with smart bike trainers for the team to use. This is the perfect place for us to have a triathlon team with the resources we do have in place such as the mountains, an Olympic size training pool, Wash Park and trails right off of campus. However, we still need more support and one of the most important ways we can do that is by building relationships.

How many new athletes do you have joining the team next season? Could you tell us about them?

So far, we have two signed athletes. Kennedy Calcagno is from Illinois. She is a huge addition for us and will make an immediate impact on our team. She has placed consistently at the top of the Junior Elite Rankings. Coco Diemar is originally from Colorado and has been doing triathlons from a very young age. It will be monumental to have her experience on the team, especially with her background. We are very excited for them to both join us! I am still hoping to add 1-2 more additional athletes for next year as we build the program.

What do your goals look like for your second year guiding the program? 

Continue to grow the program and build on the success we had this year. Continue to strengthen our team culture and vision. Form more ties with the community around us. Have very clear individual and team goals for each race we compete in next year. Eyeing a top 3 finish at Nationals for next year and building towards a National Championship title in the coming years!

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Top photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

One thought on “DU Triathlon Head Coach Perkins Q&A”

  1. Dunker thinks that was an excellent interview. Great questions led to both interesting and informative responses. We should catch Sun Devils soon. Brutal summer conditions mean ASU must do a lot of indoor training. Also, the dessert athletes can’t swim.

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