There were many smiles, some tears, a whole slew of cheering and even a bit of rain.
On Saturday, 32 women’s teams zipped around the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium to determine their starting positions in the 30th edition of the women’s Little 500, scheduled for April 21.
Delta Gamma stole the show, taking the pole after registering an impressive time of 2:33.308 and breaking the record for the fastest qualifying time for a women’s team in history, riding faster than Teter’s 2009 team.
Kappa Alpha Theta, the 2016 pole winner and one of the most successful women’s teams by historical standards, finished right behind Delta Gamma at 2:37.368. Alpha Omicron Pi, the Ski Club and Alpha Chi Omega rounded out the top five.
All 32 women’s teams that participated Saturday qualified for the race. Zeta Tau Alpha did not show, meaning the number of teams in this year’s race will be one below the usual 33.
Many teams had to persevere after faulting on their first attempt. When Alpha Sigma Alpha botched an exchange on their first try, the riders didn’t even bat an eye.
“We went back to the warmup pits, and everyone was more relaxed than we were beforehand,” Mitchell Duke, Alpha Sigma Alpha’s student coach and a rider for 3PH, said. “Everyone knew we were a good team and that we were going to make the race, so we were just ready to get our second attempt and get it done.”
Sure enough, the riders of Alpha Sigma Alpha, knowing better than anyone else what they were capable of, pulled through and finished eighth overall.
When Theta Phi Alpha took the track around 2 p.m., their fans cheered emphatically from the stands, trying to pump every last drop of motivation into their riders. Anchored by sophomore Caitlin Kamplain, who rode two laps, the team turned in a time of 2:52.249, good enough for 15th place.
“We were hoping to get a faster time and beat our time from last year, but we’re still happy we made it,” Alexis Malay, the team’s senior captain, said.
A couple of hours later, Alpha Chi Omega faulted on their first attempt after a mishandled exchange. When they came out for their second attempt, the riders were focused, not wanting to have to try a third, do-or-die attempt. Fortunately for the riders, they got exactly what they wanted and posted a time of 2:43.980, good enough for fifth on the leader board, where they would remain until the day’s end.
“We were aiming to be in the top 10, so we were pretty happy about the result,” sophomore rider Clarice Cross said.
When third attempts began, many riders were noticeably tense. They were aware that they would have to execute a clean run or they’d be heading home. Some of the women’s teams, knowing that they would be guaranteed a spot as long as they didn’t fault, opted to play it safe. The Sweet Potato Club, a new, all-rookie team, was one of them.
“All we wanted to do was qual, so we knew that if we took our time and didn’t take the turns too fast, we could do it,” Anna Pusateri, a senior rider, said. “It’s pretty hype that we’re going to Little 5.”
For a day threatened by the possibility of rain, the weather largely cooperated until the end. Around 5 p.m., when teams began taking their third attempts, a light drizzle began to fall. When Phi Gamma Nu took the track at 5:30 p.m., the clouds loomed menacingly over the sky, and the rain began to pour down.
The women of Phi Gamma Nu, refusing to be deterred by any water, pumped their legs hard and executed smooth exchanges to earn their first ever appearance in the Little 500. After the team’s last rider crossed the finish line, the other three began jumping up and down, just as ecstatic as their fans in the bleachers. For the first time that day, they could finally relax. Their fans and other Phi Gamma Nu members had spent the day celebrating, and now it was their turn.
“Let’s go pop some fucking bottles!” one of the riders exclaimed as she walked off the track with her teammates, all beaming with smiles.
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