When two-time defending champion Kappa Alpha Theta takes the track, everyone takes notice. Oftentimes, teams are reacting to Theta, basing strategies off of their actions, Alpha Omicron Pi rider Michaela Ranft said.
But this year, teams aren’t making Theta’s ride to the finish line an easy one.
After the conclusion of the Spring Series, Theta leads the way with 42 points, but four teams are right behind in close competition.
As demonstrated last year, anything can happen on race day. Crashes, injuries and a failure to execute race strategy are part of the sport, AOPi rider Audrey Healey said.
Taking that into consideration, Friday’s 29th running of the women’s Little 500 should be an exciting one. Theta took home the top qualifying time of 2:36.634 and was the only team in the women’s field to break 2:40. But it did not place first in any other Spring Series event.
“To start off that strong is exciting,” Theta rider Abby Rogers said after quals. “That’s definitely what we came out here wanting to do.”
Theta had its entire race team place in the top-12 at Individual Time Trials with Grace Bennett, Rogers, Evelyn Malcomb and Rachel Brown. Brown also finished in third during Miss N Outs. In the final Spring Series event of Team Pursuit, Theta rode for what it thought was the fastest time of the day, until it fell to Teter in the championship heat.
Theta’s top competition is likely to come from AOPi, Teter, Phoenix or Delta Gamma.
AOPi finished second in Spring Series team points with its fourth place finish Sunday night at Team Pursuit, its fourth place 2:41.63 time at Quals. Ali Oppel also finished in fifth place individually during Miss N Outs.
Leigh Dukeman led the way in fourth place for AOPi in ITT’s, with the rest of its race team of Healey, Oppel and Ranft also finishing in the top-15. After missing time due to an elbow injury earlier in the fall, Dukeman has worked extremely hard to get back on track.
“Seeing Leigh go down like that gave us all more motivation,” Ranft said. “It put things into perspective. We all have to be ready to go at a moments notice. Anything can happen and we all had to train like we were going to be called upon. The sense of urgency worked in our favor.”
With a coach now and an experienced team, AOPi has nothing but the highest expectations for themselves on Friday, Ranft said.
The third place team point finisher was Teter. Also under a new coach, Teter is ready to begin a new era and reassert itself as a team to watch, senior Julia Thomas said.
In addition to the team’s first place ride at Team Pursuit, it qualified in fifth place with a time of 2:41.63. Individually, Thomas finished her ITT’s run in eighth place, followed by Eliza Heath in 13th, Kelsey Kluesner in 17th and Kinsey Allen in 68th.
Rounding out the top-five finishers in Spring Points were Delta Gamma and Phoenix.
Tabitha Sherwood is the all-star rider for Phoenix and perhaps the best individual in the women’s field, having placed first ITT’s and Miss N Out. As a team, Phoenix qualified second with its time of 2:40.053, but placed fifth at Team Pursuit.
Another rider with a strong showing in the Spring Series has been DG’s Kristen Bignal. Bignal led her team to finish fifth in team points with a third place qualifying time of 2:40.445. Bignal finished second behind Sherwood in ITT’s and Miss N Outs as well.
On Friday, it will likely come down to the team that has the most depth, Thomas said.
“It’s hard to win with one standout rider,” Thomas said. “I have a balanced team behind me and I feel like that puts us in a good position. Ultimately, the whole day is about the strongest team, and I know we can finish strong together.”
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