There was talk in the press box and a buzz down on the track as Kappa Alpha Theta entered the field through the gate by turn two.
After Sigma Phi Epsilon, the defending champion on the men’s side, failed to qualify with two faulted attempts, people wondered if the women’s back-to-back champion would do the same.
It didn’t take long though — less than two hours after the first riders took the track — for Theta to steal the show.
Theta timed in at 2:36.634 for the fastest time of the day and took the early pole. The time was also the only sub-2:40 time of the day on the women’s side.
Even Theta senior rider and captain Abby Rogers wasn’t expecting her team to finish that fast.
“We could tell we were going fast, but not that fast,” Rogers said. “We were not expecting that at all. We were a little nervous because our last quals run of 2:45 wasn’t as great as we were hoping. But today, we had fast laps and smooth exchanges, and we hope this is good enough to stay at the top all day.”
Theta’s ride finished just before 10 a.m., and it would hold the No. 1 spot on top of the leader’s board for the next nine hours.
“It’s exciting, we’re super proud,” Rogers said. “It’s my senior year and Maddie’s (Lambert) senior year and that’s always something we’ve wanted to do. It helps having all of Theta as our support system, too. They know how much this means to us.”
The team behind Theta was independent Phoenix team, followed by Delta Gamma in third.
Theta made it look easy, but that wasn’t the case for every team. Alpha Gamma Delta had two rides that ended with mechanical bike chain issues.
They ended up using bikes from two years ago in order to complete a successful third attempt.
AGD is used to this process, though, because it’s been in this position before, senior rider Logan Ritter said.
“The last two years we’ve always had something go wrong, and we’ve always had to qual on another attempt,” Ritter said. “So mentally, we were prepared for that, and we were ready to go.”
Ritter told her team a third attempt is a good thing because AGD never does its best on the first try.
At the time, Ritter was looking to have her team qualify in sixth place.
“There was a lot of space in that area on the board and on our third time we obviously wanted to play it a little safe,” Ritter said. “But it’s where we wanted to be, and we have a great position now, and I feel confident that we could end the day still in the top 10.”
After the day’s events concluded, that’s right where AGD’s time of 2:44.819 would leave them — sitting at 10th place.
“I want to go as hard as we can and showcase ourselves today,” Ritter said. “I know we could’ve gone faster, but we couldn’t risk not qualifying. We’re very happy to be moving on.”
As the rides continued, three teams failed to qualify on their first two attempts.
Phi Mu, Alpha Sigma Alpha and IU Nursing would have to wait until late Saturday evening to get a final chance to complete four laps in order to qualify.
Each team was able to complete its third try and successfully qualify for the Little 500.
This year, the women’s field had just 32 teams attempt to qualify, meaning each team that finished has secured a spot in the field.