Daniel Walker/Special to the Herald
ANGEL FIRE, N.M.
The Skyhawks are wearing a new color scheme – red, white and blue.
The Fort Lewis College cycling team, collectively, donned the red, white and blue jerseys of national champions Sunday afternoon at Angel Fire Resort.
Behind a balanced and deep roster, the Skyhawks won their eighth consecutive national title at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike Championships, holding off the University of Colorado over three days of mountain bike racing.
“I’ve come to really appreciate that I’m on a team that wins the national omnium almost every year,” FLC senior Rotem Ishay said. “It’s easy to take (winning) for granted. But when I see the dedication of our coaches – especially Dave Hagen, who is the heart and soul of the program - it inspires me.”
Ishay, in his final national collegiate mountain bike competition, finished second in the individual omnium for men in Division I. He won the short track endurance race Saturday after finishing second to teammate Howard Grotts in Friday’s cross country race.
“I’ve been on the podium every year (four) because college racing is important to me,” said Ishay, who closed his collegiate mountain biking career with three national short track titles in a row.
“I’m also a pro, and I’m a student, but this is important to me,” said Ishay, who qualified for the final field of 32 in Sunday’s dual slalom, his first year of gravity racing.
“Joe Schusler (of the University of Colorado) was definitely the man of the mountain this weekend,” Ishay said of the omnium winner who was second in Sunday’s dual slalom.
“He did far better on the endurance side than I expected. He was top 20 in the cross country. I have a lot of respect for him because he did all of the events on one bike (a Yeti). I had different bikes for cross country and downhill.”
FLC teammate Kaila Hart, a product of the Durango DEVO youth cycling program, finished fourth in the Division I women’s omnium. She raced cross country, short track, downhill and dual slalom to help FLC win its 20th national cycling championship.
“I was happy to finish fourth (in the omnium),” Hart said. “Juggling the time slots is tough with four events. Not tiring yourself out but getting enough practice time. It’s a tough balance.”
She said the FLC coaches helped her focus on each event one at a time.
“Hagen is amazing,” Hart said. “He keeps us hydrated and fed the entire day. And that’s hard to do.”
She said the support of coaches Chad Cheeney and Elke Brutsaert puts the Skyhawks in a position to excel, like they did at Angel Fire over the weekend.
“It’s always nice to contribute to the team,” Hart said after Sunday’s award ceremony where the Skyhawks literally traded their blue and gold kits for the red, white and blue champions’ jerseys. “This is so fun. We all have so much fun racing together.”
Grotts, another product of the Durango DEVO program, added an individual national championship (cross country) and a runner-up finish (short track) to the Skyhawks’ winning point total.
“It’s great to be part of such a cool program,” Grotts said. “We’re excellent at riding bikes. But we also have a great team ... a community. The best part about it is having fun together.”
But the Skyhawks did more than have fun: They won.
“This year, particularly, the staff we have are passionate people (about cycling),” Hagen said after the Skyhawks collected magic numbers 8 and 20. “They’ve been a part of the program. They know how it operates. It’s not just fast racers – it’s a team. It’s everyone working together as a team.”
But, Hagen said, with all the planning and preparation, the Skyhawks still have to go out and execute.
“They still have to go out and give it their all,” Hagen said. “That’s all I ask. If they give it their all, and we don’t win, that’s all right. We still have a good time.”
FLC totaled 701 points to win the complex team omnium scoring.
CU was second with 625.
Marian University of Indianapolis, a strong road and track cycling program, made mountain bike headlines by finishing third (445 points).
Lees-McRae of North Carolina, the longtime cycling rival of FLC, was fourth (439).
The University of Wyoming, behind women’s repeat omnium champion Jill Behlen, finished fifth (434).
Behlen, a tiny dynamo at 4 feet, 10 inches, solidified her title with a third-place finish in the dual slalom Sunday afternoon.
Skyhawks’ Taylor Borucki, Phil Cowen and Adam Digby all advanced through the first elimination round of Sunday’s dual slalom, which amounted to a dual BMX race. Think BMX track on the side of a mountain, and that was the dual slalom course at Angel Fire Resort.
The Skyhawks were bumped in the second round, as was Brittany Clawson, who won the women’s downhill for FLC on Saturday.
Meghan Kane of FLC took a high-speed crash in the dual slalom, launching over her handlebars in the first elimination round. Kane, who was knocked out momentarily, was tended to by medical personnel. Gravity racers all wear full-face motorcycle helmets when racing.
Kane, who finished on the podium in downhill, was transported to the hospital in Taos, where doctors cleared her to return to Angel Fire on Sunday evening. She got back to the resort just in time to put on her red, white and blue jersey and join her teammates at the top of the collegiate podium.
The team, which gave its all, again was whole, just in time to collect its eighth consecutive mountain bike gold and the programs’s 20th national championship overall.
“We have the most fun out of any of the teams,” said Lauren Catlin, who won two national titles this year for FLC – cross country and short track.
“To me, that’s the most important.”