When the 2023 Arkansas Interscholastic Cycling League race series kicked off in August, the field included one of the newest high school mountain biking teams in the state, Mount St. Mary Academy of Little Rock. The four-rider squad debuted at a time trials event Aug. 26-27 in Harrison and competed in its first official race at Springhill Park in Barling Sept. 9-10.
“I love it that we have a Mount team this year,” said junior Sarah Siria. “It’s my most favorite thing in the world because I have so much pride as a Mount student. I just love Mount, and I’m so glad I get to do a sport for Mount. It makes me so happy.”
Siria, who has been racing since sixth grade, is joined on the team by junior Laura Grace Files, sophomore Caroline Koch and freshman Mia Hunt. The riders, all of whom have raced previously through clubs, jumped at the chance to represent their school in the fast-growing sport.
“Practices have been really good. It’s a lot of fun,” said Files, who has been racing for six years. “I think our success this year will be a matter of us sticking together and finding our balance between racing and riding and still having fun while doing it.”
Hunt, a relative newcomer to the sport, said she was turned on to mountain biking by her mother, an MSM alum and teacher Lori Hunt.
“My mom did adventure racing for most of her life and that inspired me to start mountain biking,” she said. “I borrowed her adventure race bike, and I really got into it. I love this so much. I want to inspire other people to join mountain biking because it is a really fun sport. It might seem dangerous, but it really is so fun. It’s a club sport now, but I hope it becomes an official sport of the Mount. That would be so cool.”
The squad is coached by team parents Nathan Siria, Mark Koch, Lori Hunt and Jada Ellis. Coach Siria said the team’s previous experience has been invaluable in getting the team off the ground so quickly.
“They were excited,” he said. “They have been super easy to work with. It makes it an easy sell if you’re not starting a new club with no members. You already have a few girls ready to go.”
Mountain biking is among the fastest-growing sports, especially in Arkansas. The Natural State is known throughout the United States for having some of the best mountain bike trails. Northwest Arkansas has traditionally been regarded as a mountain biking mecca, but in recent years Hot Springs has also devoted money and resources to develop trails and promote cycling events.
The AICL was organized in 2015 by Arkansas National Interscholastic Cycling Association to provide a fun, safe and quality mountain biking program for students in sixth to 12th grades. Arkansas is the 17th league and is currently a “project league” under the NICA umbrella.
“There’s like, 700 kids that race when it’s race weekend, and another 2,000 family members. They’re big events, lots of fun,” said Nathan Siria. “It is single track through-the-woods type racing. They usually start it in a field, and they’ll line the kids up, kind of like race car racing, fastest kids up front, five kids in each row. Then it’s a flat-out sprint to the woods.
“You can pass in the woods on the single track. Every once in a while, there’s usually a little passing lane. But the races are long enough that it usually plays out fine. They spread out pretty quickly, surprisingly, and the course is a loop so when they come back through the field there’s room to pass as well. The more competitive kids usually have plenty of time to work their way into position.”
Each of the MSM riders say the activity offers a lot of friendship and camaraderie among teams. Koch also said she’s eager to show that Mount girls can hang with anyone on two wheels.
“I think girls can do just as much as guys can do,” Koch said. “The fact that they were giving us an opportunity to show that girls can mountain bike, even though it’s mainly a guy sport, girls can do it too. I was very excited that we would have a team. I’m so ready to race for Mount.”
The remaining races on the Bike Belles’ inaugural season include Sept. 23-24 at Clysta Willett Park in Mountain Home, Oct. 7-8 at Cedar Glades Park in Hot Springs and Oct. 28-29 at Centennial Park in Fayetteville.
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