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2012 SoCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series Finals

May 18, 2012
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Power the Pinnacles
The SoCal Finals in Lake Arrowhead, California

Story & Photos Phil Beckman, PB Creative??Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

The SoCal High School Cycling League Series reached its high point ? in every meaning of the phrase ? for the 2012 season in the thin air of Lake Arrowhead, California. The San Bernardino Mountains were once again the setting for the “Power the Pinnacles” event, but this year it carried considerably more consequence. In 2012 it served as the fifth and final round of the season, making it the literal and figurative summit of months of training and competing for more than 250 student-athletes and their many supporters. Most class and team championships and final point standings would be determined at close to 5000 feet of elevation. It also marked the completion of the fourth year of the League, and hence the graduation of a number of riders who have spent their entire high school experience as part of this rapidly growing program.

“Average race attendance for the 2012 SoCal Series was up 30 percent over 2011, showing there is still great demand for high school mountain biking,” said Matt Gunnell, the Executive Director of the SoCal League. “We’re?certain that we will grow again in 2013 and beyond as many people are already planning on starting new teams. We were so happy to be able to pull off a fantastic series final at Pinnacles. Racing in Lake Arrowhead is special as it is truly a mountain setting. The venue is tight but the course is incredible. We worked hard to fit everyone in and greatly appreciated everyone’s patience. We think it was worth it! A total of 252 student-athletes poured their hearts out on one of the funnest but most challenging courses of the year. You could see the grins peering out from behind the dusty faces as riders finished.”??

Teams ?Congratulations to Hemet High School for sealing its third consecutive season team championship by way of its fourth consecutive Division 1 event victory in 2012. As Head Coach Pete Kirkham stated afterward, “We came out a little slow this year, but all power to Woodcrest and thanks to them for pushing us, especially that first race. We knew we had a lot of work to do and to win four in a row is just beyond the team’s wildest dreams. To come out on top again is just a testament to the coaches, all our volunteers, the school administrators, the athletic director, the parents and obviously the kids.”

David Peery is the Head Coach of Woodcrest Christian High School, which again gave Hemet a true test. “I think we had a great season,” he said. “Hemet, as always, did an awesome job. It wasn’t as close as it was last season, but our kids all worked really hard.” Finishing in third for the year for Division 1 (for teams with 12 or more riders) was Murrieta Valley High School.

In Division 2, the upstart rookie Redlands Composite squad was the runaway winner for the day and the 2012 series. As Head Coach Woody Woodruff explained, “As far as our team win this weekend, Pinnacles was a tooth and nail fight for survival. The kids really suffered across the board. They had to dig really deep. As far the season win goes, our team has been buoyed all year by generous sponsors, wonderful families, friends, and extraordinary student talent. Our coaching staff loves to win because we are all racers too, but in the end our program succeeded because we have great kids with outstanding work ethic. Had we placed last or first in the standings, this program would have been a win for the community.”
San Gabriel Valley Composite finished second overall in Division 2, followed by South Orange County Composite.

Varsity Boys ?
The racing at the front of the Varsity Boys class was as exciting and “pro” as ever, with Casey Williams (Independent) getting loose from early breakaway partners Joel Titius (Corona Composite) and Shane Skelton (Independent) on the second lap to pull away and score a decisive win. But the real drama was taking place near the rear of the field. Series leader Jesse Rogers (Independent) was having a bad day. It was later learned that he had been sick for over a week. But he knew the points situation and gutted out all four laps around this five-mile-long high country circuit. His 19th place finish (and Titius’s second place) was just enough to secure the Varsity title. “It was worth it. In the end it all paid off,” he summarized.

Titius rolled across the line alone for second at Pinnacles and second for the season. Skelton finished third for the day, but even though he had won two events during the series, did not feature in the points battle because he had not competed in all the races. So third for the year went to consistently quick Lucas Rowton (Crescenta Valley High School), who was fourth at Lake Arrowhead.

Varsity Girls ?
Although Hannah Rae Finchamp (San Gabriel Valley) puts a priority on the sport of triathlon (she’s a multi-time national champion in her age group), she’s obviously a dedicated high school mountain biker as well. Witness her 2012 season sweep of all five SoCal League Varsity Girls races, usually by generous margins. Such was the case at Pinnacles. “It was a really exciting day,” she claimed. “I knew that the girls had improved all season and I was ready but a little nervous, as we always should be. It was an exciting start and I was able to open up the gap each lap. I was feeling pretty comfortable but always pushing myself, always looking to God to help get through the pain to be able to take another first place. The course was really fun. I’m glad we saved this one for last because it has some crazy descents and that one long climb at the end. I think that got to everyone.”

Emma Klingaman (Hemet) and McKenzie Melcher (Redlands) continued to build their rivalry while Finchamp got away again. As Klingaman reported, “I just decided to stick with McKenzie and then made my move on the fireroad climb back in on the first lap. I just wanted to keep building the gap and maybe catch up to Hannah. Second and third lap I was basically racing by myself. It was a good race. The course was awesome, so much fun. It has to be my favorite. I live at altitude, so it could have been an advantage. Thanks to everyone for helping out ? coaches and family and friends.”

The top three for the day reflects the final standings, with Finchamp ahead of Klingaman and Melcher.

JV Boys Division 1 ?
Speaking of clean sweeps, Jarred Jordan (Murrieta) sanitized this class by another healthy margin to make it five-for-five in 2012. It may not have been as easy as it looked. As he explained, “Today I felt pretty good. Thursday I got sick so I didn’t know how I was going to do. So I just tried to keep my mind off of that and give it my all. Off the start I took a good lead and just held it the rest of the race and kept my heart rate in a good zone so I could push it without getting too tired.” Austin Smith (Yucaipa) put in a stellar ride for runner-up, while Sean Bird (St. Francis) came out on top of a duel with Tanner Peery (Woodcrest) for third place.
In the final standings, Jordan was a spotless champion, trailed by Peery and Bird.

JV Boys Division 2 ?
Kyle Skeen (Ramona) claimed his fourth straight class victory, pulling his usual disappearing act to win by over six minutes. This was accomplished despite a fall that cost him the early lead. “I started in second, then took the lead but crashed. I got back up, caught back up and just held a good pace from there. The elevation is tough for me, but I came through,” he explained. Again it was Spencer Rathcamp (Hart Composite) taking the “best of the rest” position with a safe gap, followed by teammate Aaron Argueta in third. This is the way the final standings ended up as well.

JV Girls
Home court advantage and highly effective team tactics played a big part in the outcome of this class. Reka and Dalma Felenyi, twin sisters and teammates at Rim of the World High School ? the host of this event ? gave rival Maddie Melcher (Redlands) a demonstration on how to attack, defend and counterattack. The result was Reka and Dalma rolling in for first and second within a minute of each other, and Maddie having to settle for third several minutes later. Even more impressive were the Felenyi’s lap times, which were as good as the winning Varsity Girls (although JV did two laps versus the Varsity’s three).

“Almost every day we were out here riding and getting better at it,” said Reka Felenyi. “And we do have an altitude advantage; we’re used to it. I was surprised by my lap times. I didn’t feel like I was doing that well. During pre-ride I fell on my knee, so that was kind of sore. But I powered through it and had it in my mind to show my team that I won’t let any injury stop me. I don’t know; everything just fell into order perfectly. I’m stoked.”

As if there isn’t enough to talk about here, the class championship ended up in a points tie between Maddie Melcher and Reka Felenyi. Dalma Felenyi finished the season in third.

Sophomore Boys Division 1 ?
This was another showcase for Murrieta Valley High School, as either Cole Picciottino or teammate Michael Gossett had captured every event this year (usually with a 1-2 finish). This time it was Picciottino’s turn. As we learned later, the effort hurt. “I started off easy to see how everybody else was riding, then just tried to pull away on the second lap. But then my legs started cramping, the whole rest of the way. I couldn’t even get off the bike when I finished. I just kept riding with it and the team was updating me about where everybody was. Thanks to God and my family for the result.” Gossett was second, while Evan Cobb (Crescenta Valley) barely edged Zandon Smith (Yucaipa) for third.
In the final standings, Gossett had the upper hand over Picciottino, even though the latter had skipped one race to compete in a national downhill event (a rider’s best four out of five races count for points). Daniel Balsam (St. Francis), sixth at Pinnacles, rounded out the 2012 top three.

Sophomore Boys Division 2
The most exciting finish of the day happened at the end of this race, as Sammy Bello (Independent) and Doug Hall (South Orange County) rounded the last turn together. Bello was thrilled to prevail in the sprint to the finish line. As it turned out, it had been a come-from-behind ride. Bello summarizes: “At the start I had some technical problems with my bicycle. My chain fell off at the first hill. The leader had like a minute on me. I had some trouble catching up to him but I did. From there I stayed on his wheel and then sprinted him at the finish. I’ve done it in road races, but never on a mountain bike. It was a great finish for me, especially since it was the final race. I would like to say thanks to God and my coaches and my parents.” Bello claimed the final leader jersey handily, while second and third was calculated to be a points tie between Jeremy Call (Royal High School) and Bryce McKibbin (Santa Ynez Composite).

Sophomore Girls ?
The Rim of the World girls flexed their muscles and local knowledge in this class as well. Megan Bradley completed her perfect five-win season while teammate Nicole Jewell covered her back in second. Gabriela Bolton (Murrieta) filled out the top three. “All the practice we did this week was on this course,” said Bradley. “We were all confident that we would do well. I’m happy that I got first the whole season. I think it’s like in school, because I always want all A’s. And it’s the same for me in the races. I have that same mentality.”
The final standings reflected the finish at Lake Arrowhead: Bradley, Jewell, Bolton.

Freshman Boys Division 1
Michael Lansing (Woodcrest) remained unbeaten in 2012 SoCal League racing, again winning the largest class of the day with 38 competitors. “I was a little nervous about today,” he revealed. “I don’t like altitude too much. But it played out perfectly. My start was great, then I looked back and I couldn’t see them. No one was pressuring me, but I put pressure on myself to do my best. It was great; the best track of the year so far. It was a perfect racing season, 5-0, so I’m happy.” Randy Graham had a great day to claim second place, with Micah Swinhart (Woodcrest) in third.

In the final tally, Lansing topped Swinhart and Adam Rowton (Crescenta Valley), who was fourth at Pinnacles.

Freshman Boys Division 2 ?

The winner’s name may be hard to spell, but it’s easy for the student-athletes in this class to remember. James Pflughaupt (Corona del Mar) was victorious at every event this season. At the SoCal Finals: “I tried to acclimate to the elevation as quick as possible but I don’t think it happened too much. I’m from the coast, so it’s totally different. I got a good start and had no problems at all on the bike. It’s a great way to finish a great season. The coaching and the people putting on the race have been fantastic. I can’t wait to race again next year.” Bradley Breyer (Redlands) and Imeh Nsek (Independent) were second and third at Pinnacles, with the top three here being the same as in the final point standings.

Freshman Girls
The class leader coming into the final race was Alexis Marques, but she was slowed by an illness. Incredibly, she still finished third, which helped complete another top-three sweep by Hemet High. Winning this event was teammate Hayleigh Kirkham, with Arcelia Mercado in second. As the winner put it, “This morning my best friend Alexis had chickenpox. And I wasn’t feeling very good either. I was getting lightheaded. But then when the race started I just decided to power through it, just go for it. I lead at the start then Lexie passed me, but I got back around. I dropped a chain just before the fireroad but was able to fix it OK. I’m really happy. It’s nice to win.” That inspiring third-place finish ensured the season championship for Marques, while Hemet teammates Kirkham and Mercado completed the top three for a compelling SoCal League season closer.

Upcoming events:?? May 20, State Championships, Los Olivos, CA

Contact: Matt Gunnell, ?matt@socaldirt.org, ?(818) 415-1133, ?www.socaldirt.org


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