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Samantha Runnels (Lindenwood) is better known for her Squid alter-ego, but on Wednesday, she was wearing the kit of Lindenwood University for her first collegiate bike race. Runnels started school at Lindenwood this semester and was looking to get a Stars-and-Stripes jersey in her first college try at … the old college try.

To get the jersey, she would have to beat out a very hungry Hannah Arensman (Brevard College). Arensman finished fourth in both the Collegiate and U23 races in Hartford and was looking to get on the podium and possibly take home a win in Reno.

Halfway into the first lap, both Runnels and Arensman went to the head of the class and opened up a gap back to Emma Swartz (Marian University), another of the pre-race names to watch. For the next three laps, the two engaged in a back-and-forth battle that was arguably the best of the first day in Reno.

Sammi Runnels and Hannah Arensman battled for half the race. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Sammi Runnels and Hannah Arensman battled for half the race. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

The two were together until the beginning of the fourth lap. Runnels went to the pit, and Arensman used the opportunity to open up a gap. Once she had some space, she took advantage of it and opened up her lead. Even while having to go solo into the tough headwind during the last lap, Arensman found the extra gear to keep Runnels at bay.

The win gave her a coveted podium spot and some momentum heading into Sunday’s tough U23 race against Emma White, Clara Honsinger, Swartz and company.

To the Head of the Class

The two fast starters in the Women’s Collegiate Varsity race were Arensman and Runnels. Halfway into the first lap, the two were already off the front with 10+ seconds on the third-place Swartz. Swartz in turn separated from the field. Early on it was clear the final race of Wednesday afternoon would be a three-woman affair.

Emma Swartz took the holeshot. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © D. Mable/ Cyclocross Magazine

Emma Swartz took the holeshot. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © D. Mable/ Cyclocross Magazine

Early in the second lap, Runnels opened up a gap on Arensman, but the Brevard rider was able to close it in the technical half of the course. After the race, Arensman said this pattern repeated itself, with Runnels having the advantage on the grueling pulls into the headwind, while she was more at home climbing and then ripping down the sidehill descents.

Sammi Runnels got off to a fast start in her first collegiate race. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Sammi Runnels got off to a fast start in her first collegiate race. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

“She had it in spades on those open stretches,” Arensman said. “I was like, man, if you weren’t here, I would be way back there. It was awesome working with her on those big long straightaways, but once we got to the technical stuff, I could feel the practice of DuPont paying off.”

Hannah Arensman felt at home on the technical descent. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Hannah Arensman felt at home on the technical descent. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

The wheel-to-wheel riding continued for over half the race. Two riders with complimentary skills. If something did not chance, a sprint finish was not out of the question.

Arensman Gets Away

The key moment of the race occurred at the beginning of the fourth of five laps. Runnels had to pit due to a shifter issue at the start of the lap, and Arensman used the opportunity to open up a gap. Once she had her first real space of the afternoon, she took advantage of it.

“Well, honestly, her pitting,” Arensman said about the race’s key moment. “There was no getting away from [Runnels]. We were neck-and-neck, and then she took a pit bike. I stood up for a second, she stood up for a second and it was just that split second we needed to separate.”

Her lead was eight seconds heading out toward the climb, it grew to 18 seconds at the end of the fourth lap. Sometimes the smallest slip or line choice can affect the rhythm of a race and put someone on the ropes. Runnels trip to the pits changed the race.

Arensman got one last chance to enjoy ripping the descents knowing a Stars-and-Stripes jersey was waiting for her at the finish line.

Hannah Arensman celebrates her win. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

Hannah Arensman celebrates her win. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

“It was so fun,” she said about the technical descents. “It was my favorite part. That descent was so out of control, you just lose yourself going down it. It was awesome.”

Runnels held on for second and Swartz took third. Not a bad grade for Runnels’ first trip to school. “I always want to win, but this was my first Collegiate race with Lindenwood, so I’m happy with it,” she said about her afternoon.

Swartz’z podium was the second for the Swartzi on the afternoon after her brother Caleb finished third in the Men’s varsity race. They will get the chance for another podium in the team relay on Thursday

Emma Swartz had a solid ride, finishing third. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © D. Mable/ Cyclocross Magazine

Emma Swartz had a solid ride, finishing third. Collegiate Varsity Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships. © D. Mable/ Cyclocross Magazine

For more from Reno, see our continuing coverage of the 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals on our dedicated Nationals page.

Photos available to license here and more will be added throughout the next week.

If you haven’t yet, enter your Fantasy team for Nationals for a chance to win wheels and tires from Vittoria.

Women Collegiate Varsity Results: 2018 Reno Cyclocross Nationals

PlaceBibLASTFirstTeamCity STTimeGap
152ARENSMANHannahBrevard CollegeRutherford College NC44:28
284RUNNELSSamanthaLindenwood UniversityAustin TX44:5931
351SWARTZEmmaMarian UniversityMadison WI45:281:00
470BEMISMadelineMilligan CollegeCorona CA45:491:21
558MYATTMackenizeSavannah Coll A&D - AtlantaAtlanta GA46:332:05
666FREEBURNKatjaFort Lewis CollegeDurango CO47:052:37
765RATHBUNLaurelMarian UniversityMonument CO47:353:07
862CAMPBELLEllenFort Lewis CollegeDurango CO47:423:14
960SANTOSKatherineMarian UniversityLouisville KY47:593:31
1059LUNDBERGKelsayFort Lewis CollegeSalida CO49:014:33
1154YOUNGWERTHAbigailSavannah Coll A&D - SavannahBoise ID49:124:44
1261BEATTYAlijahMarian UniversityWashington IA49:595:31
1353SHOOKPaigeMars Hill UniversityWeaverville NC50:005:32
1463ADAMSKennedyMarian UniversityStow OH50:265:58
1579KOLLUSKristenCO Mesa UniversityPhoenix AZ50:586:30
1677SENCENBAUGHJudahSavannah Coll A&D - AtlantaToccoa GA51:327:04
1789SCHEHRERAnnaFort Lewis CollegeSalida CO51:377:09
1878SWANHannahMilligan CollegeAlpine CA51:427:14
1969MITCHELLHelenMilligan CollegeMilligan College TN51:42s.t.
2085TESCHKEAnnikaLindenwood UniversitySaint Charles MO51:437:15
2155WENGERSydneyKing UniversityBristol TN52:438:15
2276THEROUX IZQUIERDDafneCO Mesa UniversityGrand Junction CO41:55@1Lap
2372MACKSvetlanaLees-McRae CollegeSilver Spring MD42:27@1Lap
2471WOODSAshlynLees-McRae CollegeWinston Salem NC42:34@1Lap
2581MIRANDASamanthaBrevard CollegeValley City OH43:57@1Lap
2657CROCKELLCaylaCO Mesa UniversityOrangevale CA44:09@1Lap
2773KANIZERVictoriaMilligan CollegeOwasso OK44:56@1Lap
2880PAYERKiraFort Lewis CollegeHousatonic MA45:42@1Lap
2967DIETRICHKateKing UniversityBristol TN45:55@1Lap
3064ZOERNERAshleyMarian UniversityHighlandsranch CO46:18@1Lap
3175PALMERDagnyLees-McRae CollegePhoenixville PA46:21@1Lap
3256HOPKINSMasonWarren Wilson CollegeRichmond VA47:12@1Lap
3383DUKEMANLeighLindenwood UniversityBloomington IN50:47@1Lap
3474MILLERMorganMilligan CollegeCharleston TN52:31@1Lap
DNF82BESHEYAlayneLindenwood UniversityFort Dodge IA