Cycling Red Hawks soaring ever higher
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 13:11
There is a new and growing dynasty at Ripon College.
Following a season highlighted by an eighth-place finish at Nationals and a third consecutive conference championship, the Ripon College Cycling team is proving that the founding of the program three years ago was very much a worthwhile investment.
"It was really spearheaded by Bob Gillespie, who was then the Athletic Director, and Kent Menzel, the cycling coach at DePauw University," Ric Damm, coach of the Ripon Cycling team, said of the program. "They met and Kent convinced Bob that it would be a good thing."
Since the Cycling team's maiden season in the fall of 2008, Damm has seen the team grow and evolve in almost every way.
"It does seem like it's happened fairly quickly," Damm said. "I thought that since we're the only school in Wisconsin with a cycling team that it would be built really fast. We just needed to build the reputation and certainly now we've done that."
Ripon's growing identity as a cycling school has indeed been boosted in recent years. Despite tapering off, the Velorution program brought publicity and helped to label the college as cycling-friendly. Additionally, students voted en masse last fall to earn Ripon a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project that was used to build a mountain bike trail in the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy.
"[The trail] is one of those things that just says that we're committed to this," Damm said. "It's certainly not a state-of-the-art facility, but it's a resource and is great for the team to hone their skills."
First year athlete Ben Senkerik represents a prime example of the type of student-athletes that Ripon may be able to attract thanks to its newest team.
"I think the cycling program was the main reason why I looked at Ripon. I didn't think about coming here until Ric told me about the team," Senkerik said. "I think having a team will be really beneficial because it will draw people to the college who would have never thought about coming here, like myself."
Senkerik has also been impressed by how quickly the program has grown and credits a great deal of the team's success directly to his coach.
"I think the program has managed to grow so quickly because Ric is very passionate about the sport and has done so much for this team," Senkerik said. "He races in the Wisconsin Off Road Series, so he gets to know many of the junior racers very well."
The first year who garnered the Red Hawks' top individual finish at Nationals in New Mexico with a third-place finish in the cross country season, cited the fact that Damm also contacted him by telephone in attempting to recruit him while a competing coach used Facebook as an example of the commitment and charisma that attracted him to Ripon Cycling.
"When Eric Smith and I got on the podium at nationals he came up to us gave us a hug and started to tear up," Senkerik said.
In addition to finishing in the top ten as a team in New Mexico, the Red Hawks also won the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference Division II title for the third consecutive year. The impressive finish at Nationals was one of Damm's primary goals for the 2011 season, but eighth-place hasn't yet satisfied him.
"I'd really like to finish on the podium as a team, meaning a top five finish, next year," Damm said.
Damm went on to cite Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. as having the type of cycling program that he hopes to construct at Ripon. The Blue Raiders have finished in the top five among Division I competition at Nationals for six straight years.
"Lindsey Wilson has a phenomenal program. I want to have the type of success that they have," Damm said.
While matching the dynasty that Lindsey Wilson has managed to establish in the last decade may still be some years away, the Red Hawks and their committed coach are certainly on the proper path.