Two graduates from the Class of 2018 have made their mark on The Mount in a way very few can claim to have accomplished. Nick Hershfeld ’18 and Nolan O’Donnell ’18 came to the Mount Saint Joseph administration during their sophomore year with an idea for a club that would soon evolve into the state’s first team in the newly-formed Maryland Interscholastic Cycling League (MICL).
The once Mountain Bike Club is now recognized as an official sports team at Mount Saint Joseph, just three years after Nick and Nolan came up with the idea. As soon as plans for a Maryland league of the California-born National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) were made public in 2017, Nick, Nolan, and Coach Nikki Kelley became determined to make Mount Saint Joseph the first team signed up. And, on April 1, 2018, that dream was realized. The first official season began on July 1 and will run through November 4.
“MSJ makes a great effort to create a place for every student,” says Nikki. “Thadine Coyne is the student activities director and all clubs run through her. She has advocated for the club since the beginning, and without her support we would not exist. I think it says a lot about MSJ that we can allow students like Nick and Nolan to bring their interests and talents to our school and share them with other students. The Mountain Bike Club is now a team in a Maryland mountain bike league, so I think it is here to stay. What a great legacy to leave behind as these guys graduate. Maybe they will come back and take over as head coach one day. That would be very MSJ.”
Nick and Nolan wouldn’t be the first alumni to help out either. The team has had abundant support over the past three years from a number of alumni who have joined the rides. Each ride requires adults to lead, sweep, and offer help to new riders. Mike Savarino ’83 and Dan Shaw ’93 help perform ‘‘bike checks” at races and have swept races to make sure all MSJ students finish. Mike, Dan, and Mary Lynn Hansen, whose two sons graduated in 2016 and 2018, are all assistant coaches. Other Mount alumni who have joined the team’s rides include Jake Hansen ’16, Sean Morrison ’04, Phil Kraska ’04, Pat Martel ’04, Matt Spence ’99, Marc Hoffman ’97, Rick Webb ’94, Phil Campbell ’91, Mike Reese ’90, Sean O’Donnell ’82, and John Jacob ’73.
The team will be hosting an annual MSJ Alumni Ride during Thanksgiving break, organized by Nolan and Nick. “I think having this annual event will bring more people back to The Mount who maybe didn’t participate when they were in school but have chosen mountain biking as their life sport,” says Nikki. “With over 200 miles of local trails, we have a lot of alumni riders out there who enjoy being a part of riding with their alma mater’s team.”
As it is considered a lifetime sport, an important philosophy of the team is that mountain biking is for everyone. All skill levels are welcome and encouraged to join. Nikki enjoys watching both expert riders and beginners improve side by side. “There is a great deal of camaraderie and brotherhood present throughout a ride, as well as at school or around the neighborhood,” said Nick in an interview with Spokes Magazine last year. “This club has brought together boys from all four classes and created friendships among those who maybe would have never talked to each other. No one gets cut from the team in mountain biking.”
Nolan added, “It’s not just how the club represents the Xaverian values the school is centered upon, but the sense of brotherhood that is achieved during a ride or another club event. There is always something that you can learn on each ride — whether it is how to get over a new obstacle or how to teach someone to get over an obstacle. It is really cool to see how people can work together participating in a sport that isn’t always viewed as a team sport.”
Nikki says she gets to witness this solidarity and teamwork on every ride. “I watch the best riders swing to the back of the group to encourage the slowest riders and show them how to maneuver obstacles,” she says. “At our first practice, we did a three rider per team relay race during which kids from all levels were on the same team. They worked together without caring who was fastest. I always hear cheers of encouragement when someone makes it up a steep hill for the first time or when someone tackles difficult terrain. They really enjoy watching each other improve.”
Nick and Nolan are leaving behind a fresh track in Mount Saint Joseph’s tradition of sportsmanship and competitive athletics as mountain biking jumps wheel-first into its first official season as an interscholastic sport.