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  • Mason Williams, Staff Writer

First-year Grubis helps blaze a path toward Triathlon Nationals

Team Photo Provided by Brett Franz

The Women’s Triathlon Team is nearing the completion of a triumphant third season, placing second at the West National Qualifier and thus qualifying for nationals with first-year Riga Grubis (‘27) leading the charge for the team’s successes.

Grubis took sixth place at the West National Qualifier meet on Oct. 14 in Springfield, Missouri with a time of 1:16:52. Her strong finish led to her selection for the All-West Region Team for Division III among seven other competitors. She was also chosen as the West All-Region Freshman for her repeated accomplishments during the 2023 season. Additionally, she won the Millikin Splash and Dash individual championship on Sept. 22. Her victories show the Triathlon Team’s growing success as a new program at Willamette University.

While Grubis had prior experience with running, biking and swimming, she had never competed in a triathlon before coming to Willamette University. She instead ran cross-country and track and field in high school in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her interest in triathlon began while looking into Willamette and being recruited by the triathlon team. “I’ve always been a cross-country and track person,” she said. “[Triathlon is] such a new thing for me.”

Grubis recalled how nervous she was going into the season: “Going into it I was kind of nervous that I wouldn’t even be able to do it. For it to work out really well, I’m super happy.” The freshness of the experience was also something she enjoyed this season. “It’s really hard to burn out. When I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve been running too much!’ we hop in the pool. The type of training is so different than anything I’ve ever done that it’s just really fun.” When asked about her goals going into nationals and the rest of her athletic career, Grubis stated that her main goal is to have fun and enjoy the sport. “I just want to keep up with [having fun] and use it as a foundation to go further in the next three years.”

Grubis credits the efforts of Head Coach Brett Franz for her successful first season. Franz has been coaching at Willamette for 18 years. He spent 14 years coaching cross-country and track before becoming the triathlon head coach when the program was created during the pandemic. Franz noted that getting the team off the ground was one of his biggest challenges, not only because the Triathlon Team was a fledgling program, but also due to the scarcity of triathletes in high school. When asked about his recruiting strategy, Franz explained his priority of finding committed athletes. “It’s a challenging sport for someone that doesn’t want to do it,” he said. “[My goal is] making sure that we know their ‘why’ of why they’re doing it, and because they want to do it, they want to have fun and they want to try something new.”

The team first competed three years ago, sending two athletes — then first-years Veronica Castille ('25) and Ella Isaacson ('25) — to nationals. Last year, they sent five competitors. This season, the number has increased to seven thanks to the team's performance at the West National Qualifier. Franz’s ultimate goal is for the Women’s Triathlon Team to become the top Division III program in the country and compete against Division I and II teams.

The Triathlon Team will compete at the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon Championship, which will be hosted in Tempe, Arizona on Nov. 11.

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