The first full state championships for high school mountain bikers took place on Sunday, May 17, at Boggs Mountain in Cobb, California, when 374 students from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Redding converged for the California High School Mountain Bike Championships.
With 39 teams, including six composite teams, students from more than 50 schools participated.
“Once again these kids, and their parents, and the coaches leave me speechless with admiration,” said League director and founder Matt Fritzinger. “We now have more than 600 school kids competing in California high school leagues. The SoCal riders did just great; we can see there is a lot of talent already in that league. There is so much going on in high school mountain biking, but as the pinnacle of what we are doing, this event made me proud,”
The six-mile woodland loop through Boggs Demonstration Forest provided a broad ranging test of talent, suited best to the all-round rider with good bike handling skills. The most difficult section was a short, very steep, singletrack climb, called The Wall. Some said the course seemed less technical than last year, but all agreed the swoops, jinks and turns of the singletrack made it a lot of fun. The trails were dry, the dust was up, and it was hot — somewhere in the 90s — for much of the day. The racing conditions were far from easy.
New faces from the upstart SoCal League made their mark, getting all the way to the top of the results in some categories and showing that although the NorCal riders benefit from the depth and intensity of the competition they have created for themselves, the talent pool covers the entire state.
According to organisers, if the event had a theme, it was camaraderie. The intensity of the racing made it clear that everybody was riding as fast as they could, but the stories about riders stopping to help fallen colleagues, and the excitement for the success of others showed that this event was about much more than winning.
“We made some adjustments this year to increase the commitment of the riders to the team. The kids adapted and it’s worked out really well for all our coaches. Right now I’m ecstatic and exhausted,” said Paul Chourre, head coach of the 34-rider Drake program, about 10 seconds before his riders dumped a cooler full of ice on him. Team Director, Dan Freeman, added, “It’s great to bring the trophy back to Mt Tam, where the sport of mountain biking began.”
In Division II, the San Marin High School team finished strongly to earn the title after a season-long struggle with Marin Catholic and the Monterey Bay Kingfishers, who took second and third respectively.
“Winning was a goal for me this year, but I never really talked about it with the kids as I didn’t want to pressure them. We got so close last year, it was evident it was a possibility,” said Adam Nuyens, head coach of the 12-rider San Marin team.
John Bennett (El Cerrito) ended up with the series win and the state championship, but on Sunday he was pushed all the way by second-placed Nate Byrom (Nevada Union) who was still hungry for a win in the ’09 series.
“This is my third year in Varsity. I got a win last year, I was hoping for one today, and finished 15 seconds behind John Bennett. It’s the closest I’ve been all season,” he said. On reflection he added, “I’m very stoked!”
Bennett and Byrom got clear of Will Curtis (San Rafael) and Davis Bentley (Redwood) on lap one. These two engaged in their own battle for third place, which Curtis won after rebounding well from the all-out effort of lap one in the second half of the race (everybody suffered on lap two after the intensity of the start lap).
Bennett finally broke free of Byrom on the final climb of the final lap after attacking at every opportunity to wear his rival down.
“It was a hard race. Really, really hot,” said Bennett, who was limping from a sore foot at the end. “I had to work pretty hard on lap three and four to gain some distance,” he recalled.
According to the League, Bennett, a national team member, has been an inspiration to all riders in the League. Although this is the last year he will race with NorCal, he predicts his involvement will not end here.
“I have one younger brother who’s a sophomore, and another brother in middle school, and more younger brothers who aren’t even in kindergarten yet, so it’s going to be a continuing event for me. I’ll be back!”
The standout freshman, Shayna Powless (Independent), continued her domination of the Varsity category, adding the state championship to her series title. There was nothing to do but applaud the athletic brilliance of this extraordinary talent, some of whose lap times rivaled those of the male winners. Modest as usual, she said after the race “I’ve trained a lot on courses like this, so I felt well prepared. My main hope coming into the race was that I wouldn’t crash. I almost did a couple of times. I was hoping for a top three result, but I’m surprised and happy to win it.”
On lap one, Powless was pushed hard by Christine Weir (Nevada Union), yet halfway around lap two in this three-lap race, the relentless pace of Powless was simply overwhelming and Weir had to let her go and focus on her own race. Lauren Catlin (Drake) took third place.
Weir says the league has been a tremendously positive experience that might never have happened: “I was cut from the soccer team, but I’m so glad that happened because then I started mountain biking. I’m so glad to do this sport! The people on my team, they’re so much fun to ride with!”
Tiana Rowe, the sole Varsity rider in the SoCal League, had a more difficult time than she had expected in the race and finished 14th. She was slowed on lap two by a crash at a super soaker station. “I expected more of myself, but it’s pretty cool to be here, I’ve never seen this many high school bikers, it’s amazing! Next year I’ll do better! I’m going to try to get my friends involved, although they’ve never really ridden,” she said after the race.
Apart from the state championships, the event at Boggs Mountain served as the final round of the NorCal series. The Drake Pirates team held onto the lead they had enjoyed all season to deservedly claim the Division I title, ahead of the San Rafael Bulldogs and Nevada Union Miners.
Complete race results can be found here.