BLOOMINGTON | In her fourth year as a rider, Chesterton’s Kelsey Phillips captained Delta Gamma to their second win in as many years in the women’s 26th Annual Little 500 Race.
“It feels better than it did last year, if that’s even possible,” said Phillips, an Indiana University senior. “We definitely walked off last year wanting to come back and win it again.”
Kappa Alpha Theta — the sorority whose 1986 decision to enter a female team in what was initially the all-male Little 500 race led to the establishment of a separate women’s race — finished second, the same showing that squad attained in 2012.
Delta Gamma is the sixth women’s team to manage back-to-back wins in the 25 mile, 100 lap women’s event, the largest collegiate intramural women's race of its kind. The squad has won three Little 500 races since 2008.
Valparaiso's Melissa Moeller helped independent squad, “Wing It” finish third.
“We set a goal this year: We were going to make it onto the podium,” she said. “It felt great…it wasn’t first, but it was a great finish.”
Under overcast skies, unseasonably chilly afternoon temperatures and a wind chill which hovered near freezing, more than 10,000 spectators packed Indiana University's Bill Armstrong Stadium for the 3 p.m. race around a quarter-mile track.
This year’s winner seemed far from certain, even until the final moments. Kappa Kappa Gamma led for much of the final lap before being overtaken and falling to seventh place.
Although Delta Gamma’s cycling squad was led by four seasoned seniors, the sorority’s qualifying time only seeded them fourth in line out of 33 teams, all riding specially commissioned single-speed Schwinns the university annually orders especially for the bicycle race.
Remembering the race, Moeller said the final moments were a blur of jerseys and wheels as she vied to catch up. Although the race itself lasts only an hour, for the riders, it culminates what Moeller called “countless hours of preparation” over the year.
“Springtime is go time, but we really lay the groundwork in the summertime and the fall,” observed Moeller.
Friday afternoon’s win was especially sweet for Phillips, culminating four years at the track.
“I was lucky enough to pick up riding in late fall and early spring, and ride in my first race as a rookie,” she allowed. “But to be a real contender, you truly have to work day in and day out.”
Now, the two women have competed in their final Little 500 as riders. Graduation awaits in May. Phillips is bound for Chicago, where a job with Bank of America awaits her. Moeller hopes to find work in advertising, or as a screenwriter. However, both say they’ll be back, as alumni and perhaps even as coaches, assisting the next generation of cyclists.
“Even though we had a strong team of four senior riders, I also focused on recruiting younger riders,” Phillips said. “I was looking for younger girls who would be willing to take up cycling and be the next legends of Delta Gamma.”
Other local riders Friday included Bishop Noll's Rose Mullaney (Melanzana, fifth), Chesterton's Jenna Norgaard (Gamma Phi Beta, 13th), Highland's Katherine Smailis (IU Army, 15th), Portage's Elizabeth Littlejohn and Munster's Lindsey Conger (Last Chance, 19th), Hobart's Jen Hill (Air Force, 23rd) plus Valpariaso's Michelle Tebout (Alpha Delta Pi, 27th).
The men’s Little 500 race lasts 200 laps, equaling 50 miles on the track. It will be held at 1 p.m. today. Munster’s Eric Anderson and Beta Theta Pi are the top seed. Other local riders include Kappa Sigma's Greg Nowak (Valparaiso), Forest's Neal Ward (Crown Point), Collins Buccaneeers' Max Mills (Dyer), Delta Upsilon's Austin Venhuizen (St. John) and Delta Chi's Francisco Borrayo (Chicago Heights).