The Marian University Cycling Team won its second consecutive cyclocross national championship, and the program’s 20th national title, on Sunday, January 13 as riders raced to four podium spots and several top-10 results in a narrow omnium win over Fort Lewis College.
Both the men’s and women’s races were competitive with challenging conditions – the women saw slick mud on Saturday, and the men’s event on Sunday featured frozen and icy conditions that changed to some mud throughout the race.
“This national championship was exceptionally exciting because of the competition that results from a growing collegiate cyclocross scene,” said head coach Dean Peterson. “All of the teams’ interest in this discipline is shown clearly in the growing size of the women’s field, the evolution of the team dynamic in racing, and the investments being made to handle the varying conditions that ‘cross presents.”
Junior Kaitie Antonneau led the women’s effort with a stellar ride for first place on Saturday, with sophomore Coryn Rivera finishing in fifth. Antonneau made an early effort to escape from the rest of the field and rode a clean race to the solo victory, and Rivera rode consistently to move up the top 10 and turn in a solid result.
Seniors Jackie Kurth and Allie Dragoo rolled in for ninth and 11th place, respectively. Freshmen CJ Karas turned in a 16th place finish with Emily Elbers in at 25th, Catherine Hollibaugh at 33rd, and Riley Missel at 35th. After Saturday’s efforts, the team sat in first in the overall omnium after winning the event in team points. The team watched the weather closely as quickly-freezing conditions would change the course surface rapidly before Sunday’s race.
Sophomore Josh Johnson led the charge in the men’s race with a strong start and finished in second place behind a commanding win by Lees-McRae College rider Kerry Werner. Johnson traded attacks with Werner early in the race but lost time in a small crash and was unable to regain contact. Behind Johnson, freshman Drew Dillman battled with Fort Lewis College rider Rotem Ishay for a fourth-place finish. Also animating the race and turning in a top-10 finish was freshman Jason Blodgett.
“That was the hardest I’ve ever gone in a race,” said an out-of-breath Blodgett after crossing the finish line. “I knew it was important to finish as well as possible to displace Fort Lewis riders, and I really pushed myself to do so.”
With three in the top 10, the men’s squad was able to win their event as well, helped by stacked results from senior Danny Gerow (14th), freshman Vance Fletcher (28th), junior David Yohe (33rd), sophomore John Hoopingarner (37th), and freshman Nate Labecki (51st).
In addition to the collegiate events, Dillman, Johnson, and Gerow contested the under-23 men’s race on Saturday, and Antonneau raced in the elite women’s event on Sunday. Dillman rode to and on the front early in the race, finishing second to Yannick Eckmann; Johnson finished fifth. On Sunday, Antonneau finished ninth but was the highest-placed U23 rider, meaning, she returned to the top step of the podium and defended her title as national champion.
In the end, Marian University clinched the omnium team victory over Fort Lewis College, 188-166: the cycling program’s 20th national championship, and the 12th under Coach Peterson. The win also helps add to the Knights’ lead in the year-long, five-discipline overall omnium competition, which they now lead by 27 points over Fort Lewis and by 74 points over third-place Lees-McRae College.
“Seeing the team perform as well as we could, really makes me proud to be a part of this 20th National Championship title and the run at an omnium championship,” reflected assistant coach Nate Keck. “Each athlete really rose to the occasion and pushed their teammates to perform at their best. That is something that is really special to see.”
The next national event for the Knights is BMX nationals in Phoenix, Arizona in March, with the final discipline, road, to take place in Ogden, Utah in May. A win in the overall omnium would be a first, and Marian would be only the third school ever to win that title in Division I.