SoCal High School Cycling League Race Report-Vail Lake Challenge



Middle School Girls

So much joy in this photo of some middle school girls after the awards ceremony. -Photo by Frank Hoppen

Ties, Battles, and Middle School Magic

March 12, 2015

2015 SoCal High School Mountain Bike Racing Series ROUND TWO

Vail Lake Challenge, Temecula, CA

Contact: Matt Gunnell, [email protected]
(818) 415-1133,

High School Results HERE
Middle School Results HERE
Photo Galleries HERE

Temecula, CA — Where the opening race at Lake Perris took place under cool and rainy skies, the Vail Lake Challenge took place under ideal warm late spring conditions. The week prior to the Challenge, Temecula was hit by a day long deluge of rain that coincided with a race on many of the same trails the SoCal League would compete on. Thanks to a generous donation the League was able to bring out two tractors for a day’s worth of grading and over 100 riders, parents, and coaches from several local teams spent an afternoon with hand tools mid-week making lemonade out of lemons and making sure the trails were in the best possible shape. When you add to this the fact the Challenge was the first middle school race of the year and that the competition in every high school field was stellar it all added up to being a weekend to remember and the largest race the SoCal League has ever hosted. Following is the summary of what happened when 696 interscholastic student-athletes and their families, coaches, and supporters took to the trails!

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      The Uno cards are drawn in pre-staging.           Photo by Frank Hoppen


Crescenta Valley consolidated its hold over the Division 1 team standings by winning its second race in a row while Newbury Park and Great Oak are working hard to make a name for themselves displacing some of the traditional D1 powerhouses. Newbury Park took second overall for the second time this season while Great Oak made its first ever trip to the team podium taking third. The top five overall standings after two races are Crescenta Valley, Newbury Park, Great Oak, Yucaipa, and Hemet.

Crescenta Valley coach Jim Rowton called out to some key riders who excelled saying, “A special mention to Dee Anna Lopez who was 4th in JV girls and Fredrick Brandt who was 5th in freshman boys.” He added, “There are many tough and well prepared teams in SoCal. The competition level seems to rise exponentially every year. My hat is off to all of the fine coaches and teams in the league. It’s an honor to be part of such a dedicated and hard working group.”

Coach Mike Legge from Newbury Park is working on a good long-term strategy saying, “Our coaching staff planned on increasing the kids fitness and results from race to race, eventually peaking at state. So far so good, we gained more points as a team and had better overall results as individuals. It was great to have the whole team together racing on the same weekend. The Jr. High racers could swap war stories with the High school racers.” Coach Mike Matula from Great Oak added, “We have a very young team that’s improving but with just one Varsity racer I don’t think we expected to be on the podium quite yet. We are thrilled with the result and look forward to challenging the other great teams in the future.”

Broken Bike

You might have to push a broken bike but you can smile while you do it!

Photo by Elizabeth Nelson

Woodcrest Christian took its second D2 win in as many races through great work across the entire team. First year team Redlands Home School took second while Redlands Adventist Academy finished third in a field of 36 teams. The top five overall standings after two races are Woodcrest Christian, Redlands Home School, Redlands Adventist Academy, Redlands East Valley, and Righetti High School.

Woodcrest Christian Coach David Peery has been at this for a while and he sheds good perspective on a successful yet challenging weekend. “As a team we were excited to be on the podium but several of our riders individually had tough days . We had two broken chains , one of which belonged to our sophomore leader Cameron Albee shortly after the start which was hugely disappointing . In addition one of our team captains and varsity rider , Michael Lansing crashed in lap one resulting in a bloody nose and then lost his derailleur cable mid lap 4 and had to finish the lap in 10th gear.
The weekend was just a reminder that anything can happen, it’s mountain bike racing !”

Redlands Home School Coach Mike Fuller has a very young team that is coming along well and said, “This is going to be an amazing season; Perris brought the challenge of weather, Vail was a great course, and having taken a look at Castaic I can see that the courses are getting more technical and challenging. This is where all of the skills work the kids have done in practice with RICO will become more important.” Redlands Adventist Academy Coach Charlie Wilber added, “We were impressed by the number of riders in each race and there was a sense everyone was rising to the challenge. Vail is a course our riders look forward to with its high speed flow and technical sections. We are thankful to all the teams and volunteers who came out to do trail work to make the course so much fun to ride!”

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Eyes on the prize and trigger fingers extended! -Photo by Elizabeth Pang

Corona Composite took its second victory of the season over first year team San Diego Composite with Redlands Composite finishing third on the day. This year the SoCal League had a large number of new composite teams join (which bodes well for a further increase in the number of school based teams down the road) so it took advantage of a new NICA rule allowing it to split composite teams out from school based teams for team scoring. In overall standings after two races it’s Corona Composite in the lead followed by San Diego Composite and Redlands Composite.

San Diego Composite Coach Alex Estrada commented, “This weekend the team outdid all of my expectations and we had a great outcome. It was very special to watch our middle school racer Tommy doing his first race of the season, and at the end seeing his look of accomplishment accompanied by a big smile reminding me what the SoCal High School League is all about.”

Var Boy Start

Evander Hughes (in red second from left) emerged from this strong field of Varsity Boys with the race win and the series lead. -Photo by Frank Hoppen

Varsity Boys

The Varsity Boys field is as tight as it’s ever been and the competition appears deeper than it’s ever been as well. After two races we’ve had two different winners and the series lead has changed hands. Coming to the top in the race and the series is Evander Hughes of Great Oak High School who moved up to Varsity this season after winning a grueling JV series last season. 2014 Varsity series winner Daniel Johnson took a hard earned second while winner of the opener Imeh Nsek of Corona Composite finished the day in third. The top five overall after two races are Hughes, Nsek, Johnson, Jason Rowton of Crescenta Valley, and Jaron Cappos of Ramona High School. The amazing thing is that the only senior in the top five is Nsek. The rest will be back for at least one more season!

Hughes said that, other than being a little bit hot, the race went really well for him. He also mentioned that though the competition was tough he had “fun.” Anyone that can ride that fast for that long against the level of competition in Varsity Boys and still call it fun is a true mountain biker! Johnson described the action as follows and gave kudos to Hughes on a well placed tactical move saying, “Vail Lake was awesome. Loved the fast rolling course. Race tactics this weekend were all about keeping the attacks coming and sprinting to the finish. Evander, Imeh and I kept the race exciting all the way to the end. Evander had the inside line on one of the last turns towards the finish and got out in front, (good move bro) I kept full gas on to the finish line. Mixing up the points this season!!”

Var Girl Tie

After race 2 the Varsity Girls series lead is tied. There will be two leader jerseys on the start line at race 3. -Photo by Elizabeth Nelson

Varsity Girls

With so many top 10 seniors graduating at the conclusion of the 2014 season the Varsity Girls field is one of the most exciting to watch this year. The girls are working extremely hard to establish themselves and it’s clear that the process will take all season. The same two girls came out on top at Vail but the order was narrowly reversed leading to a rare tie in the overall standings. Geraldine Guerrero of San Diego Composite finished ahead of Madeline Bemis of Corona Composite in a sprint finish and Hannah Binder of Tustin High School lost touch of the leaders in the last lap to finish less than a minute back in third. Top five overall standings after two races show a tie between Bemis and Guerrero followed by Danielle Emter of Trabuco Hills, Binder, and Karina Fuentes of Redlands East Valley. As with the Varsity Boys the Varsity Girls have lots of talent with all of the top five being either Juniors or Sophomores.

Guerrero said, “I’m happy with how the race went and I feel very accomplished to be able to hold my own against such a strong field. I enjoyed all of the really fun single track of the course, but the part that I liked the most was the Tunnel of Love, since it’s very smooth and you gained a lot of speed coming down it. The most challenging part of the race was adjusting to the warmer elements, since my previous races took place in colder, cloudier, and even rainy weather conditions.”

Bemis offered, “Vail is one of my favorite courses, and this past weekend was a great day at the races! This second race made me more excited than nervous. I was excited to get to know new people, challenge myself on the course, and spend time with the team. Mountain biking is such a blessing, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings! My favorite part of the course was the tunnel of love, because it was technical while at the same timing having a nice flow to it.”

Binder described the race saying, “The trails were in great shape and with so many people cheering us on, how could I not feel good about how the race went! Just being able to hang with the front group was the best part of the race, they gave me a run for my money and pushed me beyond my limit. The race overall had it it’s ups and downs. The passing on the downhill proved to be my struggle. Throughout the race I had to play “catch up” with Madeline and Geraldine, which eventually tired me out and landed me in 3rd place. Never the less I am thrilled with how the race turned out for me!”

JV D2 Podium

JV Boys D2 also has a tie for the series lead going in to race 3. -Photo by Tony Gamberutti

JV Boys Division 1

JV Boys D1 had a new race winner and now has a new leader in Trevor McCutcheon of Great Oak High School. McCutcheon lost the opener at Perris in a power sprint to the line. However, Vail was a more technical course suited to his strength and he came across the line solo. Second place went to Bradley Murrill of Beaumont High School while Ben Bennett of Foothill High School captured third. The top five overall now are McCutcheon, Matt Wennerstrom of Newbury Park, Murrill, Bennett, and Michael Barker.

JV Boys Division 2

JV Boys D2 is the second field with a tie after two races again showing how competitive many of the fields are. Mikael Rodgers of South Orange County Composite put his technical skills to work and beat Imeh Nsek of Corona Composite (the two were reversed on the power course at Lake Perris) while Samuel Smith of Righetti High School took third. After two races the top five overall are Rodgers and Nsek (tied), Smith, Steven Nadaskai of Mission Viejo High School, and Caden Gruber of Corona del Mar High School.

Rodgers said the course played to his strengths saying, “My favorite part of the course was the descents and all the things that went along with them. Coming from a motocross background, that has always been my strong suit, and I think it played to my advantage this race. As opposed to Lake Perris where there weren’t any techno bits.” Ironically, Rodgers believes that sometimes racing in close quarters is easier as you KNOW where your competitor is while, “Having a gap on someone is great, but after about a half of a hour you start to drive yourself crazy! You begin to start wondering where he/she is on the course, how far back they are, if they look like they can mount a charge and catch you, and many other things. It really messes with your head. But in the end you need to ride your own race, and not the race of your competitors.”

Smith liked the course noting is wasn’t too technical for newer riders while still being fun for more experienced riders. He did note the heat was a factor but overcame it through regular hydration.


Gwen Gibson (in the Leader Jersey) takes the hole shot on her way to her second race win. -Photo by Tony Gamberutti

JV Girls

JV Girls is a sheer battle of strength this season and the top three finished in the same order as Lake Perris with Gwendalyn Gibson of Ramona High School in front, Haley Peery of Woodcrest Christian in second, and Kayla Nelson of Trabuco Hills High School taking third. Their overall standings after two races are the same order but add Tara Neuville of El Toro in fourth and Dee-Anna Lopez of Crescenta Valley in fifth. The JV field is a large one with 37 riders taking part.

Kayla Nelson is clearly a power rider with good technical skills noting that “My favorite part of the course was the steep up hills and the downhill. I like the fast flowy downhill but I like the sudden steep uphills also.”


Cameron Joye pedaled from 50 riders back at the start to a race win in Sophomore Boys D1. -Elizabeth Pang

Sophomore Boys Division 1

Cameron Joye of Great Oak High School bounced back from a disappointing first race to a dominating second race winning Sophomore Boys D1 by 13 seconds over Jarrett Megla of Newbury Park. Series leader Ian Bowden of Newbury Park finished third maintaining his hold on the series overall. The top five in the series after two races are Bowden, Trevor Hunter of Foothill High School, Kyle Sklepko, Joshua Dupree of Beumont, and Justin Hurdle of Newbury Park. With the variety of different names showing up on the race win and the series standings it’s clear this series will take some time to sort itself out.

Joye said the front group of three worked well together and pulled away from the rest of the field but that, after having no call up, he had to spend plenty of energy on the first lap working his way from near the back of the field. He won’t have to worry about that next race as he’ll have a call up near the front.

Jarett Megla also had no call up and worked his way from mid-pack to the front within the first mile of on/off fire road climbing. Bowden recovered from an illness he suffered after the first race and was happy to recover enough to finish third. He was disappointed that Marine Corps Hill wasn’t in the race as it’s a place where a strong and skilled rider can make time in a short distance. He’s hopeful it will return next season. Maybe he doesn’t realize there’s still a chance it will appear in the SoCal Finals which will take place at Vail Lake on Sunday April 26th.

Sophomore Boys Division 2

Thomas Fuller of Redlands Home School makes it two for two by winning Sophomore Boys D2 over Parker Arnold of Trinity High School and third place Christopher Martinez of San Diego Composite. In the overalls it is again Fuller and Arnold at the front followed by Alex Nelson of Redlands Composite, Ulises Arce of San Diego Composite, and Martinez.

Fuller had a great time at the race saying, “I had an awesome race! The D2 Sophomore Boys field at Lake Perris was so strong that I knew I would need to work hard to get a good position into the downhill. Everything came together for me at this race. The last climb before the finish was rocky and slippery; it took a lot of power to make up without walking.”


Alexis Vitale takes the Sophomore Girls win. -Photo by Michael Wagner

Sophomore Girls

Where Perris was a pure power course, Vail was much more flowy and a rider with the ability to hold speed through the turns while not losing much on the climbs was at an advantage. BMX and downhill racers Alexis Vitale of Temecula Composite is a solid climber but her technical skills are top notch. She went from second at Perris to winning Vail by three minutes over Jensesa Sanchez of Temescal Canyon High School who finished about 30 seconds ahead of Perris winner Jordyn Watkins of Redlands Adventist Academy. Vitale’s win put her in the series lead after two races with Watkins in second, Sanchez in third, Michelle Cabanas of Foothill High School in fourth, and Carson Busher of Hemet High School in fifth.

Vitale was in her element at Vail Lake saying that she really liked the course. Luckily for her she raced in the second wave of the day instead of the third as she said it was starting to get pretty warm toward the end of the race.

Sanchez said the race went better than she expected and she was very pleased even though “My chain derailed and I did take a little spill, but I got right back up and was determined to finish my race.” Watkins said it was great to start getting to know some of the racers and start working with them during the race. Noting the sawtooth terrain she said, “Some of the sudden steep uphills caught me by surprise on the course. And it was quite a challenge trying to keep up with the extremely fast racers Alexis and Jenessa!”


JV racer Kahlo Chitraroff decided to take a dust bath in the middle of the race (in the one silty area on the course) but still finished 4th. -Photo by Michael Wagner

Freshman Boys Division 1

Independent rider Jake Chromy won his second Freshman Boys D1 race of the season by two minutes over Blaise Janssen of Yucaipa High School while Christopher Polvoorde of Hemet High School came in just two seconds later. In overall standings it’s Chromy, Janssen, Parker Burgett of Great Oak, and Jonah Sanchez of Murrieta Mesa first through fourth while Cody Rodriguez of Hemet and Frederic Brandt of Crescenta Valley are tied for fifth.

Chromy’s comments on the race were as fast and efficient as he races and he paid compliments to the League saying, “So Cal does a great job! On time and efficient.” Polvoorde made the best out of a tough start to the season saying, “I had very bad cramps the first race and have no luck with the Uno cards so I had to start in the last row. This meant that I had to push very hard to catch the leaders.” Translated that means he didn’t have a call up for Vail Lake and those without a call up have a randomized start placement based on a combination of a digit on their number plate and the drawing of an Uno card. Sometimes the Uno card puts you toward the front of the non-called up riders and sometimes it puts you toward the rear. Don’t worry Christopher, your effort earned you a call up for race three!

Freshman Boys Division 2

Freshman Boys D2 wasn’t that different than D1. Douglas Lau of Redlands Composite won race one and then won at Vail by over two minutes. Dakota Greer of Rim of the World then outsprinted Jack Fitzpatrick of Corona Composite for second and third. In overall standings it’s Lau, Fitzpatrick, Weston Giem of Valencia High School, Jonah Dinger of Redlands Home School, and Payton Dugas of Temecula Valley Composite.

Lau felt great about his race until the last ½ mile saying, “didn’t really have any challenges until the last steep climb where it hurt.” Greer is happy his work over the last two weeks at practice has paid off and said the thing that gave him extra impetus to really hit it in the race was when a teammate caught him on the first climb.

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Is that a World Cup? No, bigger. -Photo by Michael Wagner

Freshman Girls

Micah Mason of Tehachapi High School won her second race of the year to extend her overall lead in the Freshman Girls field. In a race very similar to both Freshmen Boys fields she was three minutes ahead of the next rider. Hayley Richards of Murrieta Mesa High School took second in a sprint over Destiny Arce of Redlands East Valley. In overall standings it’s Mason, Richards, Aubrey More of Yucaipa High School, Meade Plum of Mono-Inyo County Homeschool, and Destiny Arce of Redlands East Valley.

Haley Richards seems to like climbing saying, “I was trying to draft the other girls for the first lap and then push to gap on the uphills” and “My favorite part of the course was Ambulance (a long climb) because that is where I was the strongest. I was 45 seconds behind 2nd place at the feed zone catching her and earning 2nd.” Arce (like most racers at Vail) was the opposite saying, “My favorite part of the race was the downhill or to be more specific the ending switchbacks.”

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The Sequoyah Gryphon middle school team most definitely has the spirit! -Photo by Gryphon Grit

Middle School

Last year the SoCal League pioneered its first middle school program with the intention to “introduce middle school aged riders to the sport of mountain biking focused heavily on skills, fun, fitness, and NICA’s “Spirit of Howdy” with a small taste of the competitive aspects of mountain biking they will find when in high school.” It held two Saturday afternoon races in 2014 and has moved that to three races in 2015. In an effort to allow kids to have a less pressured environment there is no team competition and no season overall standings. Instead, each race is treated as its own unique event even though many kids will likely do all three races. Even with this stepped down pressure the enthusiasm evident at the first race was contagious and there were smiling middle school riders (grades 6-8) everywhere you looked on Saturday. In the end, 173 middle school riders took to the course in four self selective categories called Experienced Boys, Experienced Girls, Novice Boys, and Novice Girls. The middle school riders rode two or three laps of a 3.5 mile course giving them just enough fun and excitement to be enthused but leaving the harder training and longer distance to the high school riders. No burnout wanted!

With the SoCal Series being a five race series the completion of race three at Castaic Lake will put us over the hump toward finals and give us a better idea of how most of the overall field competitions will likely work themselves out. Castaic Lake is a new venue for the SoCal League and it has a little bit of everything. It’s a pretty good blend of the first two courses including some of the grass and paved sections offered up at Lake Perris with some of the twisty turny flowy single track sections and short power climbs of Vail Lake. We hope you’ll come out and see us!

Upcoming Races:

March 28-29: Dam the Torpedoes!, Castaic Lake
April 12: Cruise the Keys, Keyesville BLM Special Recreation Area, Lake Isabella
April 25-26: Victory at Vail: SoCal Finals, Vail Lake
May 17: State Championships, Los Olivos, SoCal Hosts
• Full information available HERE

About the SoCal High School Cycling League

The SoCal High School Cycling League was organized in 2008 to provide a well defined race season for high school student athletes and to promote the formation of teams at public and private high schools. In 2014 that grew to include a middle school program designed to introduce middle school aged riders to the sport of mountain biking focused heavily on skills, fun, fitness, and responsibility with a taste of the competitive aspects of mountain biking. With the cooperation of local race promoters and our sponsors we produce a first class series of races in addition to providing training for coaches and riders. The League is working to make interscholastic racing the easiest way for youth to get involved in the challenging and exciting world of competitive cycling. NICA and the SoCal League exist by virtue of a range of fundraising activities, as well as generous donors, and sponsors including founding national sponsor Specialized Bicycle Components, Easton Foundations, H2, SRAM, and Trek Bicycles; major sponsors Kenda Tire, Bicycling, Giro, Clif Bar & Company, Primal Wear, and Quality Bicycle Parts; sponsors Camelbak, Casino Bicycles, GU, ICE Sportswear, Intense Cycles USA, Jax Bicycle Center, JensonUSA, Kayo Clothing, Maxxis, Rock n’ Road Cyclery, and Simplicity Bank; additional sponsors Athletic Event Supply, Cannondale, DeFeet, Feedback Sports, Fox, Kinetic, Optic Nerve, Ritchey, and Yakima; educational partners Ft. Lewis College and Lees McRae College; and media partners Mountain Bike Action Magazine.

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