by Roger Wistar
Although 2018 is the first year that the mountain biking program begins the season as an officially recognized varsity sport, for many on the team, it is just another rung in a ladder of progress that began with the team's founding two years ago.
"The most important thing is to signify that we are a serious team that trains, competes, and develops skills and fitness," said program founder and head coach Mike Fitzgerald. "We want to demonstrate to students who are thinking about riding that this is a real athletic challenge."
One of the big steps forward for the team this year is an influx of new riders to join the core that has been the program since its inception. This year's roster includes three preps, and most races include both A divisions and B divisions to allow riders at different skill levels to challenge themselves.
Fitzgerald said he was excited about having the new riders because it highlights the development aspect of the program. "We're a program that doesn't just rely on kids who come in with a deep level of experience. Mountain biking is the kind of thing that you can pick up at any age," he said, noting that newcomer Patton Janssen '20 has already earned a podium place in just his first race for the team.
Besides the roster, the season has expanded as well, including a schedule that includes six races, up from four last year. The Bearcats will race against a growing field of opponents as well. Currently teams from Berkshire, IMS, Kent, Kildonan, and South Kent will be in the field, and Fitzgerald mentioned that Salisbury is also forming a program.
The team trains through a variety of techniques, trying to match the difficulty of the practice to the growing ability of the riders, said Fitzgerald. On Wednesdays and Saturdays when the team is not in competition, they try to take longer rides to build endurance, he said.
Co-captain Jackson Wolf '19 praised Fitzgerald for his ability to provide an appropriate level of challenge. "He is really focused on us constantly challenging ourselves, but at the same time having fun," he said.
Wolf and fellow captain Alex Kulicki '19 said they will focus on supporting the new riders as they begin to build their confidence in the sport. "Mountain biking can be difficult to master quickly, so patience and determination are key values we will need to instill in the minds of new riders in order for them to succeed," said Wolf.
Fitzgerald also gave kudos to three-year rider Alex Takoudes '20 for his contributions to the program, particularly his attention to the young riders. "He's a fantastic role model for the new riders as well," he said.