Kappa Alpha Theta wasn't in the lead to begin the final lap of the 31st Women’s Little 500. Yet, it only took one final burnout to ultimately surge past the rest of the pack in the last quarter of the 100th lap to seal a date with victory.
After hanging within the top 10 throughout the afternoon of April 20, Kappa Alpha Theta’s Rachel Brown sat back in the thick of the field and waited for the perfect moment to take her chance.
"I was just looking to stay in the race until it was time to win,” Brown said. “When it was time to win, give everything I had.”
Theta is the winner of back-to-back races and has now achieved the same feat three different times in the team’s history. Theta is one of six other teams to win back-to-back Little 500 races as well.
Delta Gamma followed Theta for second place while Teter, Alpha Chi Omega and Melanzana rounded out the top five.
Melanzana had to serve a 20-second penalty because the team caused a crash during practice earlier in the week. Senior rider Brooke Hannon chose to take the penalty early on during the ninth lap in order to have enough time to claw back in the race.
Crashes weren’t a major issue late into the race as the only two major ones occurred within the first 50 laps. Freshman rider for Alpha Xi Delta, Abigail Shafer, was the victim of a minor crash which led the rider to be stretchered off the track. The yellow flag was dropped for three laps until the track was cleared for the race to begin once again.
Going into the final few laps, a mixture of Phi Mu, Ski and Delta Gamma went back and forth for the lead until Theta made its final pursuit.
“It was much longer than a standard set for sure, and that wasn’t the plan,” Theta Coach Ryan Knapp said. “It was just the only option we had in my opinion. I just didn’t feel there were a lot of opportunities that the race gave to us… I just felt the race was so slow.”
The victory on April 20 was Knapp’s third consecutive victory in both the men’s and women’s races. Knapp led Black Key Bulls and Theta in both of last year’s races to first place finishes and did so, again, for Theta this year.
“It’s not me,” Knapp said. “These programs have such a system in place that they would be competitive in these spots with opportunities regardless. It’s really cool that I get to play a role in it and try to offer any advice that I can, but it’s more of a testament to the depth of these programs and the people have keep the quality coming year after year after year.”
Theta finished ahead of the field by nearly a full second, but Brown said she could feel the pressure other riders were putting on her in the final lap.
“I haven’t seen it yet," Brown said. "I was told that the race wasn’t that close, but that absolutely does blow my mind because I know how much hard work everyone else puts into this. That was my only set that I did after lap 75 and then, just staying in the whole time. I thought I was going to have some time to rest up, but that wasn’t the case. I’m happy I had it when it mattered.”