By Delaney White
A local hidden gem continues their legacy of success despite pandemic restrictions.
In the backyard of Crozet sits the 1,600-acre campus of the Miller School of Albemarle (MSA). The independent boarding/day school of 190 students is known for rigorous academics, rolling hills and Hogwartsian architecture, baseball and basketball championship titles—and cycling.
The MSA endurance cycling program is internationally recognized and a USA Cycling Center of Excellence. Its student athletes have a passion for cycling and a drive to improve and succeed. The program offers different cycling disciplines for its athletes, including mountain biking, road racing, triathlon, and cyclocross (a cross between road racing, mountain biking, and an obstacle course).
“Our goal is to provide the support for every student athlete to achieve their maximum potential,” said Head Coach Andy Guptill, who has led for the program for 10 years.
Guptill raced around the country at a national level in high school and in 2001 represented the United States at the World Championship as a high school senior. After a legendary professional cycling career, Guptill became the director and head coach of Miller’s newly developed endurance cycling team.
“The endurance program is arguably the best cycling program for high school students in the United States, possibly the world,” Guptill said, noting that the MSA team is composed of young men and women from around the world with abilities and passions ranging from national champions with aspirations to be Olympians, to student athletes who are newer to the sport and just want to learn to improve their skill, fitness, performance and dabble in racing. “With the amazing, experienced coaches we have, we are able to accommodate both ends of the spectrum. We have the best of the best, to beginners who want to improve,” Guptill said.
MSA cyclists have won multiple national championships in all disciplines of the sport, connecting students with numerous professional contacts.
Guptill attributes student success to hard work and self-motivation. “My personal philosophy, especially with student athletes, is if you’re not motivated, you’re not going to want to improve or push yourself hard. So, I consider myself 80% a motivator and 20% a coach. I want the student athletes to all be engaged with their training and to want to pursue their training,” he said. “If I can build that desire to work hard and pursue goals, the training then comes easy. They want to do the workouts. Honestly, prescribing the right workouts is almost the easier way to do it. We know they need to be climbing these hills hard, and they need to be sprinting and doing these different things, but they have to want to do it. Motivation first, structure second.”
Like everything else, cycling has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Cycling is inherently less of a Covid-risky sport, as students are usually outdoors and distanced while on rides. But Covid has taken away races and competitions.
“The biggest impact, other than wearing masks all the time, has been competitions because they have been almost non-existent,” Guptill said. “In the past we would have traveled to California for some big races or gone up to Vermont this past fall for big races. Those races were canceled or postponed for a year. We are still riding and training as if we would be racing, we’re just not racing right now.
“The big impact has been less travel, and in some ways, it’s been difficult to focus on goals because we don’t know what the next event will be,” he said. “But the silver lining is less travel means more time on your home roads, more time with your teammates.”
Guptill reiterated the importance of staying safe while riding.
“We always wear masks. Our motto is: foot down, mask up. So, whenever we are in a group, we are socially distanced. Our mask is up,” Guptill stated. “When we are out on road trainer rides, we do smaller groups. Luckily, cycling is a sport that just by nature it is socially distanced. Once we’re out on the trails, we separate pretty quickly.”
Meet Jessica “Jess” Hall
Junior Jessica “Jess” Hall is from Richmond and lives on Miller’s campus as a boarding student. Hall started mountain biking for a team in Richmond in sixth grade and got into road biking in her sophomore year at Miller. Hall’s passion for cycling stems from her enjoyment of riding and the friends she’s made along the way.
“It’s the one sport that I found that I really, really loved that I did all the time. I played a lot of sports before cycling, but I found that most of the time when I was riding a bike I was really, really enjoying it,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of friends and a lot of connections and met a lot of people that have made a really big impact on my life and I’m continuing to meet people like that.”
Cycling brought Hall to Miller after she saw “all these kids dressed in the teal and white kits winning all these races. I took it as a reality check to see if it was something I really, really wanted to pursue in my high school career,” she said. “I decided yes, and it opened a door to new friends, new opportunities, and a new school.
“Cycling taught me that everybody starts somewhere. Everybody is going to have their first race and a first time going out on the road and I feel like that’s what I’ve learned at Miller. A lot of people come here and are already really into road biking. I started here and I’ve made a lot of friends through it and found a new discipline in cycling that I really, really love,” Hall added.
“She is newer to road racing and is a leader,” Guptill said. “As soon as there are road races again this spring or summer, Jess is going to be there lining up on the road for the first time ever. She is leading by example by showing that she is pursuing something new and going to make it happen.”
Meet Luca Scuriatti
Senior Luca Scuriatti lives on campus but his hometown is Washington, D.C. Scuriatti began with cyclocross, a hybrid between road biking and mountain biking, at 12 years old. Six years into his passion for cycling, he now focuses on road racing.
“Before I started racing, I just rode my bike around the neighborhood for fun,” Scuriatti said. “If you’ve ever ridden a bike before, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a really nice sense of freedom. You go wherever you want, do whatever you want, nobody is telling you where to go, except for stop signs. I still have that feeling, especially out here where I can just ride up Afton Mountain, go into Skyline Drive, all the way up to Wintergreen if I want. I think that sense of freedom is unparalleled for me. In any other sport I can’t get that [feeling], so that’s why I’ve stuck with it.”
Scuriatti is the reigning U.S. Road Race Champion.
“He is arguably the best road racing cyclist at his age in the country,” Guptill said. “His leadership is simply that the team looks up to him, he’s the guy to beat. Not only is he the guy to beat, but he’s your teammate, which is even better. You have a teammate who is among the best in the country. He can lead by example when he does things right: gets to bed early, eats good meals, trains hard, that rubs off on the rest of the team. Luca prioritizes his school and cycling commitments and often finds connections between the two.”
“I am capable of a lot more than I think I am mentally and physically,” Scuriatti said. “I have achieved way more than I thought I could in the past two years. It also translates really well into school work; a lot of times I’ll get pretty bogged down, but it’s not that different from training. If there’s a big race coming up, there’s a lot of hours I need to put into preparation and it’s the same for exams or tests. I just need to put in the work and I can get the results I need or want.”
With hopes of becoming a professional cyclist then heading to the 2024 or 2028 Olympics racing for team USA, Scuriatti plans on pursuing his passion as a career in the future.
Meet Ian Williams
A fellow senior and boarding student, Ian Williams is a Helena, Montana, native. Like Scuriatti, Williams began with cyclocross when he was 12 years old. Since coming to Miller, he has made road racing his focus. Williams has competitive fire and eagerness to win.
“Ian is arguably a more versatile rider; he does some downhills, some enduro on the mountain bike, cross-country, and cyclocross,” Guptill noted. “He is a leader in that it can really be cross-disciplinary—meaning you don’t have to focus on one aspect in the sport. There are numerous avenues to pursue and Ian shows that you can do those at a high level. He really leads by showing that you can pick your passion, and it can be multiple, and make the most of them.”
“Anything takes hard work,” Williams stated. “Cycling seemed easy at first. I won probably three straight races. But then I started racing people at a more competitive level and started losing. I realized that I actually had to try, and that can be similar to anything else like school work. You can always put in more effort.”
“Hall, Scuriatti, and Williams all come in from slightly different [cycling] backgrounds and different levels in the sport, but they are all leaders,” Guptill said. “The team chemistry and tight-knit community they have built have shaped the program for the better. As a supportive, encouraging team, the endurance team is able to accomplish more in their individual races thanks to the support system of their teammates then you may imagine,” Guptill said.
“We’re all really close,” Scuriatti said. “We live together, we ride together, we go to school together. We share a connection that most people don’t have because of the sheer amount of time we spend together. We’re all really passionate about cycling. It’s just fun to be around like-minded people and people that motivate you to push yourself, so you get the most out of yourself.”
“I hope racing resumes in a safe capacity,” Guptill said. “I hope that we are State Mountain Bike Champions in the Virginia High School (VAHS) Mountain Bike Series this spring. I hope that we have at least two, if not three or four national champions this summer in their respective disciplines and in their country.
“Beyond that, I hope we continue to develop our student athletes’ passions of cycling and basically make it a lifelong endeavor for them,” Guptill added. “Whether that means being an Olympian or just a lifelong recreational cyclist that loves the sport, to me, those are both victories.