Thursday, July 22, 2010

Great Expectations: The Season Ahead ...

Each year our sports information director asks me to put together some thoughts for a season preview. Here is what I've provided for 2010. It is going to be a great year!

Last year at this time, I had moderate expectations for the 2009 season. I believed our team would be competitive and that just maybe one or two riders would qualify for competition at Nationals at season’s end.

A year later, with both of those predictions realized, I'm even more optimistic for the coming season.

I'm confident that we have a good shot at repeating as Division 2 conference champions, and I'm anticipating as many as four qualifiers for Nationals in October.

Last year, in just our second as a team, the Red Hawks outpaced Michigan Tech in the Division 2 team competition by 211 points to take the title. In doing so, Eric Smith and Tiffany Seering qualified to compete at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals at Northstar Resort in California.

Eric will be back this fall, but Tiffany has left the team to focus on her academics. She will be sorely missed. Not only did she score a lot of points for us, but she was a centering presence on our team.

To fill the void she leaves, the Red Hawks will welcome three new women to the team in junior Renee DeBruin and freshmen Rosette Reynolds and Sarah Robers. Though each has various cycling experience, all three are new to the world of competitive mountain biking.

Renee comes to the cycling team after a knee injury forced her to resign from the volleyball squad. Renee tore the ACL and medial meniscus in her right knee during the very first day of volleyball practice her freshman year. Having been a cycling enthusiast previously, Renee participated in her first mountain bike race this summer and after nearly two-years of knee rehab, placed 13th overall and third among the 19- to 29-year-old Cat 3 women in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) Chippewa Valley Firecracker in Eau Claire, Wis., July 11.

I think Renee will be very successful in her pursuit of mountain bike racing. She has the three main ingredients for success: athleticism, a competitive drive and the simple enjoyment of being on a bike.

Rosette has several years of racing experience on the road and the track. This, combined with a general enthusiasm for the bicycle, will make her a natural on the trail. She has some 'comfort zone' issues on the mountain bike, but that will come with time and training. I fully expect her to be a force to be reckoned with once she becomes comfortable on the dirt.

Sarah also has some confidence issues after taking a nasty spill during her first mountain bike race this summer. She went down and landed awkwardly on her handlebar. The medical personnel at the race were concerned she may have had some internal injuries so they rushed her to the hospital. Everything checked out fine, but her body and her psyche were significantly bruised. I'm looking forward to getting Sarah on campus where she'll have a strong support crew to help her build the confidence she needs to grow more comfortable and be competitive on her bike.

That support crew will be comprised predominantly of Ripon’s four returning cyclists, senior Andy Ayers and sophomores Eric Smith, Andy "Furby" Fehrenbach and Paul Meuer.

I can't say enough about how well these guys gelled as a team last year. They are very supportive of one another and they push each other and feed off each other’s success. They are each very different individuals, but they enjoy being with each other.

In the case of Andy and Paul, they were also very green to the sport last fall.

Paul nearly quit the team the first day of practice last year. I told him he couldn't give up after one bad day on the bike. Now, he's one of the most enthusiastic and dedicated cyclists I know.

After finishing last in his first collegiate race in 2009, Paul quickly showed improvement and would not place lower than 10th among Category C riders throughout the remainder of the conference season, including a season-best sixth place in the Red Hawks Romp.

Andy, much like Renee is doing this year, transferred to the cycling team last year after experiencing an injury in another sport. A former football player, Ayers suffered a knee injury that forced him to choose a different path. He is very competitive and naturally athletic. He needed an outlet for that, and cycling has been a good fit.

Andy showed steady progress throughout last season, culminating the year with first place finishes in the Category C cross country and short track cross country events at the conference championship in Missouri. He will begin the 2010 campaign as a Category B racer but hopes some strong results early will allow him to move up to Category A with the ultimate goal of qualifying for Nationals in his final year with the program.

Unlike Paul and Andy, Furby entered last season with previous race experience. He looks to build on a successful 2009 season which saw him place well among Category B racers. He excelled in the short track last year, twice placing second in the fast-paced, off-road criterium event. A season-best fourth-place finish in the conference championship cross country event gives him confidence that he can be competitive among the Category A racers in 2010.

Furby showed a lot of great poise last year. He’s meticulous about his bike and his training, and he doesn't let the minor mishaps in a race phase him. If he suffers a mechanical, he quickly fixes the problem and soldiers on. He’s very smart and that shows on the bike.

The returning Red Hawk on whom I place the highest expectations is Eric, who began 2009 with a bang, winning his first two races, the Category B cross country and downhill events at Butler University. He followed that up with a few more seconds and thirds before moving up to Category A. In his first Cat A races, Eric placed sixth and fifth in the cross country and short track events, respectively. He rounded out the conference season with top-10 finishes in both events at the championships.

Eric is certainly our all-rounder, go-to guy. He excels in both the cross country and gravity events and is our best candidate for a high omnium placing at Nationals.

The omnium is a combination of results in four events, cross country, short track cross country, downhill and four cross. Last fall, Eric placed 10th among Division 2 riders in the omnium at Nationals, despite failing to qualify for the four cross event due to a mechanical.

Eric placed 28th in cross country, 22nd in short track and 20th in downhill at Nationals last year as a freshman. I truly believe that with continued hard work and a little luck, Eric has a good shot of reaching the podium in the omnium competition at Nationals before he graduates.

For this year, I expect Eric to show continued improvement throughout the season and have another good showing in California come Oct. 15-17. I'll also look to Eric to provide guidance and leadership to a batch of new recruits, which – in addition to the ladies – includes junior Alex Tande, and freshmen Jeremy Brouwer and Benjamin Jones.

Alex, who hails from Waunakee, Wis., is another Ripon convert to cycling after being part of the soccer team as a freshman and sophomore (He continues to be a member of the Red Hawks tennis team.). While new to mountain biking, he brings several years of experience as a competitive triathlete.

Jeremy comes to us from Boulder, Colo., and he is certainly no stranger to mountains or mountain bike trails. He may, however, have to make some adjustments to riding on two wheels. He is an avid unicyclist or MUnicyclist (mountain unicyclist).

Ben, of Manitowoc, Wis., has a history of tour riding and road racing. He recently finished sixth in the Kewaunee Troutman 50K bicycle race and second in his age group in the Omro Cycling Classic.

I'm really looking forward to what Alex, Jeremy and Ben will bring to the team. Each has a unique background in cycling, and all of them will contribute to our success.

And what will define that success in 2010?

Certainly a second conference championship and a good showing at Nationals are among the goals. But as I've said since the start of this program, if these student-athletes give 100 percent week in and week out; if they truly enjoy every moment on their bikes; and if they develop a life-long passion for the sport ... Ultimately, that is my definition of success. The results will come if they care about what they are doing.

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