Grace Bennett could hear herself making history.
As she made her way through Turn 3 on the 100th lap at Bill Armstrong Stadium with a safe lead that wasn’t going away, public address announcer Chuck Crabb’s voice carried over the noise of the crowd.
“Kappa Alpha Theta,” Crabb said, “Seventh Little 500 championship.”
“That was the last push that I needed there was to hear that,” Bennett said. “It’s kind of unreal. I don’t really know what to say. I can’t really believe it. I can’t believe it.”
Bennett and her Theta teammates broke away from the pack with about 30 laps to go and held off a late effort from Alpha Omicron Pi to win their third Little 500 in the last four years. Delta Gamma finished in third.
“It was a great race,” said Ali Oppel of runner-up finisher Alpha Omicron Pi. “Theta made a move that worked.”
Theta made its winning move with about 30 laps to go when coach Ryan Knapp opted to tell his riders to push the tempo and escape a lead pack of riders that was about 10 teams deep. The theory was that Theta could avoid having to win in a sprint if it could build an insurmountable gap that would die as the race went on.
It wasn’t a planned move, senior Evelyn Malcomb admitted.
In fact, she hated it.
“I already apologized to (Knapp) for questioning it because I was worried it wouldn’t stick,” Malcomb said.
The strategy was rewarded with a comfortable race win and ensuing celebration on the cinder track with Theta fans flooding over the fences to celebrate.
“We knew we had the depth to do something like that,” Bennett said. “We didn’t know exactly when we were going to do it or if the opportunity was even going to present itself, but we saw an opportunity and we went for it and we were just able to hold it all the way.”
Alpha Omicron Pi made Theta sweat it out late, bridging the gap from nearly 18 seconds with about 20 laps to go to a bike length with three left on the board. Ultimately, the second-place finishers used up too much energy trying to get back into the race to make a late enough charge.
Even so, the finish was the best in Alpha Omicron Pi’s program history. Theta may have added to its dominant legacy, but AOPi only continued to add layers to what’s been one of the fastest growing Little 500 teams in either the men’s or women’s fields.
“That’s what I’m most proud of is that we’ve got 10 girls on this team that work so hard,” Oppel said. “We’ve built this so far along since I’ve been here.”
Theta, AOPI, Dee Gee and a handful of other top competitors nearly found themselves out of the running after a crash on lap 35 when the lead pack was making its way around a lapped bike.
Nearly 10 teams wound up on the ground just beyond the start finish line, and chaos ensued. Luckily, for the frontrunners, the damage was limited. Riders quickly got back on their bikes, took off and restored a relatively stable pack just about a dozen laps later.
For the champion Thetas, it was Sydney Keaton who fell, got up, rode a few more laps and then handed the bike off to Malcomb from there. She held her composure the whole way.
“She got up like nobody’s business and took off,” Malcomb said of Keaton.
In a race where so many things can go wrong, Theta handled adversity when it came and pushed the right buttons at the right time. It’s sorta what Theta does.
Seven championships don’t just come by accident.
“It worked,” Malcomb said. “Thank God it did.”
- Kappa Alpha Theta
- Alpha Omicron Pi
- Delta Gamma
- Alpha Chi Omega
- Kappa Delta
- Phi Mu
- Alpha Gamma Delta
- Alpha Xi Delta
- Independent Council
- Alpha Sigma Alpha
- Theta Phi Alpha
- Sigma Kappa
- Alpha Delta Pi
- Delta Sigma Pi
- Phi Gamma Nu
- Delta Zeta
- Sweet Potato Club
- Kappa Kappa Gamma
- Delta Phi Epsilon
- IU Nursing
- Camp Kesem
- Gamma Phi Beta
- Wing It
- Sigma Delta Tau
- Alpha Phi
- Alpha Epsilon Phi