Last year’s Little 500 was headlined by the performance of Rachel Brown after she lifted Kappa Alpha Theta to its second straight victory in the women’s race.
Less than a second behind her was Delta Gamma’s then-junior Hanna Coppens.
Despite coming so close to a triumphant win, Delta Gamma rejoiced in its success instead of dwelling on what could have been.
Delta Gamma will return the same four riders as last year, each of them taking the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium for the last time. Win or lose, they have influenced a prideful culture while leaving behind a legacy of accolades.
“We’ve gotten so much more out of this than just a bike race,” Coppens said. “We’ve been so fortunate to have such great relationships formed and such great mentors and alumni that support us. It’s not even just for us if we win the race, it’s for all of the friendship and all of the support we’ve gotten from them as well.”
Over the past three years, Delta Gamma has been a dominant force in the Spring Series. Qualifications is where the team has made its mark, placing first in back-to-back seasons before falling to third in 2019.
The team of Coppens, Laurie Bignal, Kristen Bignal and Sarah Rivich set the women’s qualifications record in 2017 with a time of 2:33.308. They would go on to take third in the Little 500 that year.
“I was the last person on the bike, and I remember looking up at the scoreboard and freaking out,” Coppens said. “I was hyperventilating as it was because it was kind of a lot to be done and then I looked up at the scoreboard and I was like, ‘No way we went that fast.’”
Laurie Bignal said it was probably one of her fondest memories as a member of Delta Gamma’s bike team. She celebrated the victory with her teammates and her sister on her birthday, March 25.
The following year, Delta Gamma rode in Qualifications with just three riders on a cold, windy day that slowed performances by up to 20 seconds. Snow and slush covered the infield and the track, yet Delta Gamma came away with pole positioning yet again.
“We were really concerned,” senior Audrey Morlan said. “When the weather is bad for us, it’s bad for everyone. There’s not much you can do about it. We were like let’s get this done and not have to come back here or wait around to go a second time.”
With just one attempt, three riders and a time that was 18 seconds slower than the year before, there was certainly doubt that the team would win Qualifications in consecutive years.
Delta Gamma edged out Kappa Alpha Theta by six seconds despite the unfavorable conditions, but it would be unable to beat them in the 2018 Little 500. Delta Gamma crashed and lost upwards of 22 seconds at the beginning of the race junior Katherine Free said.
The team fought back throughout the race to allow Coppens a chance at victory among the final pack of 11 riders but fell just short. Morlan said she came off the bike knowing she did everything she could to put Delta Gamma in a lead position.
“I think we are all really proud of getting second place,” Free said. “Because when it comes down to it, we put all we could into that last sprint. We wanted to be there and we were. I don’t think getting second place is ever disappointing.”
The Delta Gamma riders kept their heads high and held back the slightest bit of dissatisfaction. They transitioned into the summer with a competitive attitude. Every member of the team would be returning for 2019.
Sophomore Kensington Knowling said that before returning to Bloomington in the fall, the summer is where you can do anything – not just biking – to stay in shape. Coppens and Morlan went on group rides in the Indianapolis area, while Laurie Bignal was in Seattle with almost no access to her bike.
“We’ve always had the idea that the summer is for you to do what you love,” Morlan said. “If you love swimming or if you love running, you can do that to stay in shape.”
When fall comes to Bloomington, cycling teams begin their coordination. Morlan said in the past, Delta Gamma hasn’t trained as hard or as structured when classes start again. This year, they came back with the mentality to get things going.
The team usually rode four to five times a week for about two hours, and they never rode alone. Early in the year, the riders were trying to ease themselves back into the racing process by navigating longer routes on campus and enjoying the time outdoors.
Delta Gamma started its weight training earlier than past years, adding another hour to its workouts. The team's work ethic and determination to push themselves harder than past years showed in the spring series of 2019.
After placing third at quals, Delta Gamma represented three of the top six times in the women’s Individual Time Trials. Coppens placed second, Morlan fourth and Bignal sixth. The three seniors will look to use their race training and experience to take first place in their last competitive ride.
“I think we’re at an advantage a little bit just because we’ve all done this together before,” Bignal said. “With us four riding together in quals and last year in the race, we’ve been practicing together for over a year.”
On the day of the race, Delta Gamma traditionally meets with alumni who visited town to see the race. The four riders will meet the alumni at their hotel before having breakfast.
From there, they congregate at their family tailgate to spent time with loved ones and relieve their nerves before heading to the track and warming up.
This year, Bignal will be starting the race for Delta Gamma. The team has a plan, and she wants to get out ahead of the pack.
“I would like to have a fast beginning to the race,” Bignal said before quals. “So, if we have the pole position then I’ll be setting the pace pretty fast. If we don’t then I’ll hopefully make my way toward the front and be a part of that lead pack pretty quickly.”
Every year, the most experienced teams are the ones in contention. Delta Gamma brings that to the table, alongside a group of quick riders who are getting a second opportunity to win together.
Delta Gamma hasn’t won since 2013 and once again, it will have to outrace Kappa Alpha Theta, winners in four of the last five races. Only this time, Brown isn’t around to contend for the final sprint.
“That’s the goal," Morlan said. "I think we’ve all put so much into this and gotten so much out of it that even if we get first or 32nd, as long as we do everything we can, I’ll be happy with it."