On a cold, rainy, weekend in late October in Banner Elk, North Car­olina, North­eastern University’s moun­tain biking team nav­i­gated muddy trails and braved strong winds to solidify itself as a legit­i­mate con­tender on the col­le­giate cycling scene.

The club fin­ished in sev­enth place (out of 35) in the USA Cycling Col­le­giate Moun­tain Biking National Cham­pi­onship, an impres­sive feat con­sid­ering the competition.

We com­peted with a lot of schools that treat cycling as a var­sity sport,” said Sam Mellen, a mid­dler mechan­ical engi­neering stu­dent who fin­ished second overall in points for the Men’s A divi­sion in the Eastern Col­le­giate Cycling Con­fer­ence (ECCC). “Other teams saw that we are a force to be reck­oned with.”

Two weeks prior to the Nationals, North­eastern hosted the ECCC Cham­pi­onships at Sunday River in Newry, Maine at which they fin­ished in second place behind the Uni­ver­sity of Vermont.

The club also fin­ished in second place in the ECCC behind UVM during its five-​​event reg­ular season. The Uni­ver­sity of New Hamp­shire fin­ished a dis­tant third.

What the club lacks in quan­tity of riders and funding, it makes up for in sheer talent and cama­raderie, its mem­bers said.

Our team attracts some of the University’s best stu­dents,” said Pat Saun­ders, Pres­i­dent of North­eastern Cycling and senior neu­ro­science major. “We all have a mutual love for the sport and we’ve made the best friends we ever will in col­lege from being part of the team. We have really intel­li­gent people and fast riders com­mitted to racing their bikes.”

Case in point, in addi­tion to Mellen’s suc­cessful season, Maggie Sul­livan, the Road cap­tain for North­eastern Cycling and a mid­dler nursing major, fin­ished first overall in points in the Women’s A divi­sion in the ECCC; Lauren King fin­ished first in the Women’s B divi­sion and Ryan Conroy fin­ished first in the Men’s C division.

Sul­livan com­peted in all four events in the Nationals (dual slalom, down­hill, cross country and short track) and fin­ished 12th overall.

This was the first year I went for overall omnium stand­ings in the Nationals,” said Sul­livan. “It affected all my races and hin­dered how I per­formed. I was run­ning around trying to make all the races and I didn’t get to pre-​​ride the courses. I have to learn to focus on two races instead of four.”

But Sul­livan, who works at a bike camp in the summer with her brother who races for UVM, fin­ished second in the down­hill race during the ECCC Cham­pi­onships at Sunday River. She credits her suc­cessful season to 4:30 a.m. summer training ses­sions and a com­mit­ment to racing more competitively.

And though the club’s inability to beat Ver­mont in the sea­sonal stand­ings frus­trated her, Sul­livan said she and her brother cheer for each other during races.

North­eastern and UVM are rivals, but we’re brother and sister first. Blood comes before biking.”

She was quick to add, how­ever, “UVM has 10 times as much funding and has always been at the top. This is the first year we really gave them a run for their money. To come in second place just behind them is really saying something.

But it’s frus­trating because we were so close to beating them,” said Sul­livan, who noted that UVM con­sis­tently brings 40 bikers to events while North­eastern brings any­where from 15 to 20.

Over the past three sea­sons, Mellen, who grew up near a bike shop and has raced com­pet­i­tively in down­hill events since he was 16-​​years-​​old, has seen a marked improve­ment in the club.

We made it a goal to beat UVM,” said Mellen. “We’ve gotten a lot closer and beat a lot of their top racers and have a great feeling heading into next year.”

At Sunday River, Mellen fin­ished first in the dual slalom and second in the down­hill. He said con­fer­ence racers voted the ECCC Cham­pi­onships as the best event of the year and that mem­bers of Northeastern’s club trav­eled to Sunday River six or seven times over the past sev­eral months to help the trail crew build courses.

UVM shows up and all they have to worry about is riding bikes,” joked Mellen. “We were plan­ning and orga­nizing and riding our bikes, so it was a big accomplishment.”

Added Saun­ders: “The atmos­phere was great and the racing was excel­lent. It was the best venue all season; the trails were awe­some, the trail crew was great and we heard feed­back from riders and orga­nizers of the ECCC of how great a race it was.”

For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.nucy​cling​.com

Photo: NU moun­tain bikers on top of White­face Moun­tainin Lake Placid, NY.

By Jason Kornwitz