By Will Gowen
Penn State Junior Monica Volk and two other cyclists launched into a final sprint, with the finish line less than 100 meters ahead. The challenging 54-mile road race split up the 60 competitors. Volk and five other riders were the only contenders for podium positions.
As they barreled towards the finish line, an announcer’s voice sounded above the cheering crowd. “And now, your D1 National Champion.”
Volk pulled ahead of the two other riders, pushing out everything she had left. The other riders held their positions in the peloton, but Volk continued to accelerate. As the finish line neared, she put a bike length between herself and the competition and crossed the line first, within milliseconds of the other riders. She won at the highest level of competitive collegiate cycling.
The USA Cycling Collegiate Nationals, hosted in North Carolina May 13-15, pit the strongest riders from each collegiate conference against one another in a final competition to earn a national title. Volk qualified for Division 1 Nationals after a season-long domination of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC), where she consistently finished first in races across the east coast. She won the yellow and green jerseys, awarded to riders who score the most points in their conference. Points are awarded for desirable finishes, and Volk scored the most out of all the women cyclists in the ECCC.
Volk’s first place finish in the Collegiate Nationals road race earned her a gold medal. “I couldn’t believe I crossed the line first. It was awesome to see it all come together,” she said.
The following day, she competed in a shorter criterium race where she placed sixth. Through her combined points from both events, she earned an additional bronze medal for individual D1 omnium.
Volk previously qualified for Collegiate Nationals in 2015 during her sophomore year at Penn State Lehigh Valley. She finished eighth in the road race and fourth in the criterium, which earned her a bronze medal overall in the individual D2 omnium. “Last year my mistake was sprinting too early, and I didn’t think tactically. I was caught in a bad spot.” While still an admirable finish, Volk trained harder to further improve her standing for this year’s season. After racing at Lehigh Valley for two years, Volk transferred to University Park as part of the 2+2 Program.
She trains year-round, five times a week, and alternates between cycling and weight training. She also credits coach Robin Farina and the terrain around University Park for her improvements. “There’s great riding around Penn State because of the hills. You ride two miles out of State College and you’re on the rural backroads.”
As a result of Volk’s outstanding collegiate racing season, the Happy Tooth Dental professional cycling team recruited her, and she will compete in races across the country this summer during the 2016 pro season. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to race my first year as a pro. My teammates are more experienced than me and they’re all great role models both on and off the bike,” she said.
Once the pro season concludes, Volk will once again race at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center. “I’ll be home later this summer and I plan on focusing on track racing. I’ll race on Friday nights.” After a long summer of racing, Volk will return to State College for her senior year, and start training for another season of collegiate cycling.