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Collegiate Cycling: Mars Hill cycling team update
By Imelda March
Date: 9/26/2011
Collegiate Cycling: Mars Hill cycling team update
Mars Hill College cycling team graces the top step at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships. Photo provided by Mars Hills College

In the U.S., collegiate racing teams strive to elevate their game on a yearly basis. Mars Hill College has had success with its cycling program and goes into the new season looking for new heights.

We caught up with Coach Hugh Moran of Mars Hill College cycling team to fill us in on the latest developments and to tell us about the collegiate cycling season ahead.

Daily Peloton: Were the Mars Hill College cycling team off-season recruitment period successful?

Coach Moran: We're having strong recruiting success. This fall six new riders joined us: four men and two women. Five are freshmen and one is a transfer.

We lost three riders to graduation last May, all senior men, and three of our top male riders. They are the program's first to graduate, so we're proud their accomplishment in just the team's third full year. We have riders ready to step in and lead and pick up where they left off, which is exciting too. I get new inquiries about the team from prospective students nearly every week, and we're now hard at work on recruiting for fall 2012. We've had some big name recruits visiting lately, and we're excited about the future.

We hope to have an exciting announcement about a particular female recruit before winter break.

DP: What new developments you would like to share with our audience?

Coach Moran: We ended the 2010-2011 school year as the #1 ranked division two team in the nation, which was an honor considering the caliber of teams we competed against throughout the year in road, track, mountain, and cyclocross. Winning three national titles at the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships in May was the highlight of the year, no doubt.

Another highlight was being named USA Cycling's "Collegiate Club of the Year" for 2010. We're proud of this recognition because it takes into account many off-the-bike factors, including volunteerism and community participation, which continues to be a focus for our program. This year we're going to volunteer with two local organizations whose main goal is to get more kids on bikes. Check out Trips for Kids WNC and the Carolina Youth Mountain Bike League. We're also excited about the possibility of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) starting a high school mountain bike league in the region. We want to be strong and active participants in developing local talent. The more kids we turn on to bikes, the more opportunities there will be for cyclists in the future, whether its racing in high school, college, professionally, or simply having more bike lanes to commute to work.

Putting energy into grassroots efforts is where it's at, and then all the other good stuff becomes more likely to happen. But I'm preaching to the choir, right?

DP: What are your predictions for the upcoming racing season?

Coach Moran: We're going to bring our best efforts to all four discipline's national championships and hope to repeat as the #1 ranked division two team. I think we'll be evenly balanced between road, mountain, and cyclocross. Track is our weakest discipline, but we're working hard to change that and brought a team of eight riders to track nationals recently. Seven of them had never raced on the track before! They were stoked about the experience and are already planning for next year.

The new velodrome opening in Rock Hill (about 2 hours away) this December will certainly help our long term efforts in this discipline. We've also added some strong mountain bike talent, including gravity riders, which will be key to improving our team's overall performance at mountain bike nationals. Of course, we'd like to win more national championships, but the competition is always fierce, so we'll do our best and be happy with the results.

Depending on how everything progresses, we have aspirations of moving into division one in the next couple of years. Still, our number one goal will be continuous improvement, and to have fun along the way, of course.

DP: What 2010-2011 accomplishment(s) is the Mars Hill Cycling Team most proud of?

The biggest accomplishment of the year for us was the trifecta of claiming the #1 national ranking, winning road nationals, and being named "Collegiate Club of the Year" by USA Cycling. I don't think we'll ever be able to duplicate the particular success and recognition we gained last year. We are now officially on the map as one of the stronger collegiate programs.

Our administration at Mars Hill has recognized our success and has been very supportive in giving us the resources we need to continue our growth. We used to joke about being the "Bad News Bears" of collegiate cycling because we started with next to nothing and rather magically transitioned into a winning team, and I think we'll hold onto that perspective since we still have lots of growing to do and many long term goals yet to realize. Still, we like the trajectory we're on.

DP: How do you see collegiate racing changing in 2012?

Coach Moran: I think you'll continue to see more collegiate varsity programs pop up across the U.S. This is the model now; in fact, Virginia Intermont College in Bristonk, VA (about 45 minutes from Mars Hill College), announced a new varsity program two weeks ago. Within an hour's drive from Mars Hill College, I believe there are now 10 collegiate cycling programs, many of them varsity.

In the Southeastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, there are strong teams who continue to grow and add talent, so competition in our conference will get even tougher, which is great for everyone. There are always some rule changes that we'll have to adjust to, but I don't foresee anything as dramatic as last year's rule that banned aerodynamic equipment in road events. That was a great rule change that leveled the playing field and allowed more riders and teams to be competitive.

DP: Have you signed or looking to sign more sponsors/supporters?

Coach Moran: We have solidified our partnership with Spin-Tech Training for 2011-2012. Spin-Tech is a cycling performance center in Asheville, North Carolina with all the state-of-the-art technology for testing power, VO2 max, lactate threshold, and basal metabolic rate. They've got a number of CompuTrainers, so that's a great resource for riders since their center is only about 10 miles from campus. Their facilities will give our riders the ability to mark, monitor, and increase performance, so that's a huge benefit.

In addition, Spin-Tech has made a large commitment to our operations budget and have provided the team with a travel trailer. Plus, one of our recent grads in Sports Management, Matt Willing, now works at Spin-Tech as one of their performance technicians, so that's a nice continuation. One of Spin-Tech's owners, Jay Hirst, is a Mars Hill College alumnus and worked at Mars Hill as the Director of Student Activities for eight years, so they're very big supporters, and it's a very natural partnership for all of us.

We're also really aligned with Spin-Tech philosophically in wanting to be a force in grassroots cycling. Spin-Tech is eager to support local youth cycling efforts and will assist us in putting on a junior development camp next summer, which is scheduled for July 15-20 and book ended by two of the regions best cycling events, the Hot Doggett 100 and the French Broad Cycling Classic. Also, we're really trying to increase opportunities for women in cycling by making them a focus of our recruiting efforts, and Spin-Tech is right there with us. In August, they hosted a women's development camp with Robin Farina, current USA Cycling national road champion, and several others from the NOW-Novartis elite women's team. And they just wrapped up a weekend training camp with mountain bike legend Marla Streb, which our women riders took part in.

Another road camp in October is scheduled, again with Robin Farina, but this time multi-time national criterium champion Tina Pic will join her too. Overall, we couldn't be happier about our partnership with Spin-Tech and look forward to them being an integral part of Mars Hill's program for many years to come.

DP: Have you increased the amount of scholarships dollars available to riders?

Coach Moran: This year the cycling program has it's first work-study positions, which allows the program to better accomplish some of its goals while allowing students to help earn their way through school while helping the cycling program grow. The initial feedback and interest in these positions has been quite strong, so we will likely add more positions to accommodate this enthusiasm.

In addition, conversations are currently on-going about increasing scholarship opportunities for cyclists, and we should have more details on that very soon. But, again, it's an upward trajectory that we're on. Also, I should mention that Mars Hill College really seeks to attract the best and the brightest to come study here. Those cyclists with strong SAT scores and high GPAs can expect higher academic awards than they might find elsewhere, so the total financial package for a well-rounded cyclist can be very attractive.

DP: What are Mars Hill Collegiate Cycling Team goals for 2012?

The number one recruiting goal is to add depth and talent to our women's team so that we balance the team equally between men and women. With women representing only 17% of all collegiate cyclists, I understand that this is a very tall order. Right now we have six women and fifteen men on the team, so we've got some work to do, but I'm encouraged by the number of prospective women who've been visiting the school because they've made us one of their top three choices. We're also focused on bringing elite men's talent to the team, and we are seeing an increase in interest from top national talent, so this has become a strong goal as well.

Our number one performance goal is to end the year as the #1 ranked Division 2 team again and be a consistent fixture on national championship podiums throughout the year. Our dream goal is to move into division one as soon as next year, but this depends on several factors that aren't clear just yet, including recruiting and performance success. Our overall focus will remain on having fun while working hard so that we continue to improve the collegiate cycling experience for everyone on the team.

About the author: Imelda March lives in Chicago and is a member of Team Kenda. She is a frequent contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News team, reporting on women’s cycling issues and general peloton ramblings. Imelda is an experienced racer who also holds an MBA and is a marketing strategy expert.

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