In 2015, Alpha Omicron Pi knew it had a competitive team, but they felt that the respect and recognition stopped there.
With three rookie riders that year, AOPi still had a lot to learn. It knew its strengths and its weaknesses, but was considered to be flying under the radar.
Last spring, during multiple events, announcers referred to AOPi as Alpha Omegatron Pi, senior Michaela Ranft remembers. Ranft and her team have replayed the 2015 race tape multiple times, and every time it still stings having to wait until AOPi is finally mentioned, around lap 87.
“They didn’t even know our own names,” Ranft said. “They kept saying, ‘Here comes AOPi with a push for the top of the pack,’ but we were like, ‘No, we’ve been here the whole time and no realized.’”
This year, AOPi’s race team of Leigh Dukeman, Audrey Healey, Ali Oppel and Ranft all placed in the top 15 at Individual Time Trials. The team has already established itself as a team to watch as a definite group who belongs at the top of the board.
“I think the fact that we weren’t recognized before gives us motivation,” Healey said. “We definitely have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder like we’ve got something to prove.”
Ranft is a four-year rider and after a few seasons of rebuilding and begging girls to get involved, she finally managed to form a solid team last year with riders who were strong athletes and ready to commit.
Compared to previous seasons, this is the most fun she’s had, Ranft said. After being caught between responsibilities as both captain and coach, the team found Craig Paiement to take over the coaching role for AOPi.
“He has helped us, encouraged us and given us things we need to work on,” Healey said. “Last year we were just coaching ourselves, so we really had no idea. He’s really given us pointers on how to take advantage of our strengths and now we’re more prepared than ever.”
Being a part of a team with so much potential is a whole new world, Ranft said, but in a good way. AOPi feels a lot more pressure now, but it also has a lot more fun.
“When your whole team is strong, and you’re working together for something, it means so much more,” Ranft said. “It makes it more exciting and challenging because we know people are finally watching us.”
Last year AOPi did a lot of reacting to what other teams were doing. When Kappa Alpha Theta was making a move, AOPi would catch on and strategize what to do next, Ranft said. If Phoenix was doing something a certain way, AOPi had to adapt and follow along.
Healey was part of the group caught in the wreck last year at the end of the race, and again, AOPi had to quickly react if it wanted to recover.
After Healey went down, she questioned if her top lip was even still there. Another rider rode over the top of her before she was pulled to the side and taken away on a stretcher. Oppel quickly grabbed a bike, but the rest of the team was shell-shocked. No one could move. AOPi felt powerless.
This year, the tables have turned. AOPi will be one of the teams with that power to dictate the race.
Both Ranft and Healy agree, they don’t have an all-star rider, but they also don’t have a weakest link. Now AOPi has a different race-day goal than it had last year.
“Being there on the last lap was something we were very proud of,” Ranft said. “We hadn’t finished 100 laps in the race in the past six years, so just being there in the last lap was huge. That was our goal, we knew if we could just make it to the last lap, then we could win. But our strategy fell apart at the end. We were so young we were like, ‘We’re here, now what do we do?’”
With their experience and improvements, AOPi isn’t nervous to take the track anymore. They’re excited. It’s been through the worst, and AOPi feels like this year it has a chance to finish as the best.
“There’s going to be four or five teams at the end and it could very well come down to the final sprint,” Ranft said. “I think with our depth we’re going to be able to save whoever does that final sprint to be ready for it when it comes. And I expect to win, to be totally honest. I think it would be crazy to expect anything else.”