Race Report: California State High School Championships

A high school race so big it could be seen from space! -Photo by Frank Hoppen

Battle Between North and South Ends in Draw?

May 21, 2015

2015 California State High School Championships

Los Olivos, CA

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

Results and Photos HERE

Los Olivos, Calif. — For the 7th year running the NorCal and SoCal High School Cycling Leagues met each other on the field of battle known as a high school race course to decide who would come out victorious. Would it be the NorCal League? Originator of National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) mountain biking and coming off its 15th regular season with all the hard won experience and refinement that goes with incremental gains after so much repetition. Or would it be the SoCal League? The “younger sibling,” but now 2nd oldest NICA League, coming off its 7th regular season and always trying to prove itself against its progenitor. Depending on your perspective it might be called a draw. After 785 student-athletes raced 1000s of miles supported by 1000s of coaches, parents, and supporters in the historic Dirt Club venue SoCal came out ahead in the number of individual state championships won (7-4) but NorCal showed its strength in depth by winning all three divisions of team competition. One of the exciting new wrinkles that came into being last year is the fact that NorCal has expanded into two conferences (NorCal North and NorCal South). What this means is that there are two large contingents of NorCal riders and teams that don’t race against each other until State Championships which helps to complicate things for the oddsmakers. Clearly this is a tug of war that will continue for years to come. For this year, strike up the Righetti High School Marching Band (who were marching the start chute), sit back, and read on!

Many sections of the course are purpose cut with great flow. -Photo by Motivation Sports

Teams

Division 1

Division 1 teams are teams with over 12 riders and they score eight riders for team competition with at least two of those riders being opposite gender. To podium in D1 team competition at State Championships there’s no shortcut and having a top rider or two won’t get you there. You need well drilled teams that are both strong and deep on the boys side and the girls side. Sir Francis Drake High School (NorCal North conference champions) came out on top becoming the 2015 D1 State Champions for the first time in three years. Ironically the last time they were State Champions was in 2012 when they won at the Dirt Club when SoCal last hosted. The State Championship race alternates being hosted by NorCal for two years then by SoCal for two years. Woodcreek High School (NorCal North) finished a very strong second while Salinas High School (NorCal South conference champions) took third.

Coach Klinkenborg of Woodcreek said, “The day went better than expected. Our athletes were coming off a first place finish at Boggs Mountain and all were energized to go out and do their best! Our team went over to Sir Francis Drake’s pit in the morning to spread some good will, congratulate them on a great season and wish them good luck for the race ahead. The kids, coaches, and parents between our two teams have been cheering for each other all season. And when the dust settled from the day, there we were in first and second place! We couldn’t have written a better way to finish the season!”

Pretty cool when you win your race then get congratulated by a coach from a different league who happens to be in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. -Photo by Tammy Sanchez

Division 2

Division 2 teams are teams with 11 or fewer riders and they score four riders for team competition with at least one of those riders being opposite gender. While they most definitely have to be deep enough to have riders step up if someone is having an off day, they often do well with one or two podium contenders pulling in enough points to distance them from other teams. Aptos High School (NorCal South conference champions) dominated the day winning by a wide margin. Bruins High School (NorCal North conference champions) took second while Redlands Adventist Academy (SoCal champions) took a close third.

Coach Henderson of Aptos mentioned that the race day went as he hoped and that having a well organized Parent Support Group is key to the team’s success. The team didn’t have a problem with the hilly Dirt Club course as they train in the Santa Cruz Mountains though they weren’t used to the absence of trees. The team liked the camping experience and ability for riders and parents to bond all weekend.

Coach Kohl of the Bruins said, “I believe the athletes put the pressure on themselves to do good. We mainly worked on them being focused and allowing them to enjoy the experience. One thing we got to experience that we normally don’t ride in Northern California is the “moon dust” that seemed to appear in many of the tight downhill switchbacks.”

Coach Wilber of Redlands Adventist Academy noted, “Going into States Redlands Adventist Academy knew the teams from NorCal and SoCal would be strong and present their best. We told all of our riders to do their best, enjoy the experience, and that every spot was important. The time and talents people have shared with our students is bigger than RAA. From coaches sharing their knowledge and experiences to families putting one more bike on the rack getting kids to practice. Small gestures make a big difference in the world when you care about kids, they watch and do the same for their friends and others. Mountain biking is a sport that draws people together and to see our kids succeed in that inclusive positive environment is what we are so thankful for at RAA!”

This Righetti HS rider pulled double duty by drumming in the race marching band before switching to his bike! -Photo by Tony Gamberutti

Composite

Composite teams are teams made up of riders from a geographic area or a group of schools. The idea is that, over time, enough institutional knowledge will develop that single school D1 and D2 teams will spin off. In 2015 NICA instituted a rule that allowed leagues, at their discretion, to award composite teams outside of D1 and D2 teams meaning the competition is a little bit more “apples to apples.” Team competition amongst the top three composite teams was extremely close with Oakland Composite (NorCal) taking the win, Corona Composite (SoCal) coming in for second, and Reno/Tahoe Composite (NorCal in 2015 but moving to the new Nevada League in 2016) taking third.

Coach Carlson of Corona Composite lost a key rider to a mechanical but was still very pleased with how the team did. He quoted Kenneth Chlouber (Leadville 100 founders pre-race chant) who says “I Commit, I will not quit” and said, “these are words that resonate and words I live by, as I teach these athletes, all points eventually count to a larger picture, unless a major mechanical or health issue, finish what you started, “You are more than you think you are.””

Coach DeRuisé of Reno/Taho Composite noted, “The day went great. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised with the success of our riders due to how hard they have worked and how far they have progressed all season, but I did not expect to have a State Champion on the team in 2015 (Sophomore Boys D2 Tate Meintjes), so my expectations were certainly surpassed. I think the biggest thing that helped our team was the momentum that had been building all season. Being new to high school racing, the competition level was a little shocking for our riders initially. Then as fitness and results started improving, the ball really got rolling for our program and our riders were significantly more motivated and focused by the time State Champs rolled around.”

Seeing double at the Varsity Boys finish. -Photo by PB Creative

Varsity Boys

Varsity level competition in California is truly spectacular. The sheer speed, commitment, and skill is remarkable and there are not many riders of ANY level (including professionals) that could ride at the front end of a varsity field. The Varsity Boys race at State Championships was no different. Four riders, two SoCal and two NorCal, separated themselves off the front end of the race during the first lap and pushed each other hard staying together until the final few hundred yards of the race when 2014 SoCal Varsity Series winner Daniel Johnson put in an aggressive kick and cracked open five seconds of daylight to win the race and become State Champion after 24+ miles of racing. This was pleasing redemption after he crashed out of the lead Varsity group in the 2014 race. Good things come to those who don’t give up and work their rear ends off! Matthew Tracey-Cook (2015 NorCal South conference winner from Bishop O’Dowd HS) managed to just hold off Evander Hughes (2015 SoCal Varsity series winner from Great Oak HS) in a ferocious sprint for second. Kristofer Lewis (NorCal from Trojan HS) took fourth while Nathan Barnett (2015 NorCal North conference winner) took fifth after racing almost the whole race stuck in no-man’s land between the lead group of four and the remaining field.

Johnson has a mature perspective on racing and on NICAs growing impact both nationally and internationally noting, “I am really excited to have won this State Championship. After last year being crashed out, redemption feels good.The bigger picture is we have a deeper field of strong riders which is so great for our sport, not just at a local level but Nationally and internationally. Traditionally we are not represented in Europe that strong but as NICA grows and draws out younger riders and more talent I think this trend is going to end!! I am excited to be a part of the growing community of cyclist. Go California. Go USA!!!

Loved the fun flowy course of Los Olivos, I pushed the pace the whole race and the 4 of us, Tofer Lewis, Evander Hughes (great ride dude!!), Matthew Cook and myself were together the whole race. At the end Tofer made a move to get away, this was the deciding moment in the race for me. I stayed calm, opted to sit behind his wheel and sprint for a sling shot around him at the finish. Unfortunately Tofer slid out and gave me sprint. Could not have asked for a better race day, Thanks again to everyone who cheers me on, I really appreciate it!!”

Tracey-Cook summarized the race saying, “Overall I had a really great race, especially considering I was sick coming into race day with a headache and cough. I feel like there wasn’t so much a decisive move in my race as it was more a race where everyone kept a high enough pace to ensure that there wasn’t anyone flying off the front. Going onto the last lap it was Tofor Lewis, Evander Hughes, Daniel Johnson, Nate Barnett and myself. Nate got caught behind a JV rider on the climb at the start I believe so it was quickly the four of us. The pace really just got higher and higher until the final few minutes where we were all at our limit. Tofor had a really unfortunate mistake on the very last flat corner which could have cost him the win. Daniel finished in first, with me just sprinting in for second a couple seconds back.”

Hughes said, “For me, the key point was just being consistent and staying in the front pack the entire race. It came down to the last couple turns with the top four guys giving it everything and one of the NorCal riders went down-that’s when we all just went for the finish. I ended up crossing the line in third, which I’m happy with since all those guys are fast. I came into the race really hoping for a win, but I’m happy with third. My competitors were definitely fast and at the end, they just were a little bit stronger. We were pretty stacked the whole race, so it really just came down to who had the extra push at the finish. Looking forward to next season!”

Lewis noted, “The race went great until the last couple hundred meters. I am very pleased with my performance and overall felt really strong. It was not an easy race at any means though and the competition was amazing. I had to start around the ninth row since I missed a number of the previous races and it wasn’t easy to catch the front group but I managed to grab their wheels by the end of the first lap. At that point in was a matter of survival. The lead group went from around 12 guys to 4 in a matter of a lap. The last lap we all tried breaking each other but none of us would give in. I sat in around third most of the lap and waited for the right time to attack. With only about a kilometer to go I made the pass into first and hammered the pedals. I made the last descent into the straightaway and gave it all I had maintaining first place. I could see the finish line and taste victory. However, the race was not over. I came into the very last turn slightly too fast and lost traction hitting the ground hard. I rushed to my feet only to watch my three competitors pass me up. I rolled into the finish in fourth place and extremely disappointed. I was seconds away from being the state champion and I let it slip from my grasp. Huge props to the other 3 guys though, they are animals and it was anybody’s race.”

Considering Johnson, Tracey-Cook, Hughes, and Lewis all have at least another year of eligibility and with a host of strong riders returning or joining from JV and Sophomore categories this race won’t be any easier in 2016.

Varsity Girls kicking up a storm off the start. -Photo by Fred Laughton

Varsity Girls

Where the Varsity Boys race had a group of four off the front and coming to the final few turns together, the Varsity Girls race appeared to be more of an individual effort where each girl put the hammer down until one after another the cracks developed and the top five each came in with daylight between them after 18+ miles. Ashley Arbor (2015 NorCal North series winner from Spartans HS) capped off her senior year with a stellar win. Lauren Desrosiers (NorCal North from Eagles HS) finished second, Madelins Bemis (2015 SoCal series co-winner from Corona Composite) took third, Geraldine Guerrero (2015 SoCal series co-winner from San Diego Composite) took fourth, and Samantha Olson (NorCal north conference from Bruins HS) rounded out the podium in fifth.

Bemis said, “What an exciting weekend at the races! I had a bit of rough start, but was slowly able to work my way up into the top three girls. Our team winning second overall for composite teams was also awesome…we have all worked so hard, and it has really paid off! I have learned a lot this season, and am excited for what adventures lay ahead.”

The only rider from the podium graduating this year is State Champion Ashley Arbor meaning, once again, next year will be a wide open race for the jersey!

Some great spectating spots could be accessed by bike without riding the course. -Photo by Tristan Gonzalez

JV Boys Division 1

In the first of four fields that will feed into Varsity Boys next season Tyler Weyman of SoCal/Newbury Park put in the best ride of his high school career to this point taking his first ever JV win and making it an important one in this 18+ mile race. Kahlo Chitraroff of SoCal/Murrieta Mesa took second, Stuart Kraybill NorCal/Tamalpais third, Matt Wennerstrom of SoCal/Newbury Park fourth, and John Waldron of NorCal/Tamalpais fifth. Clearly it looks like Newbury Park and Tamalpais will be present in Varsity Boys next season.

Weyman noted that his strategy was to stay with the lead group on the first two laps then work to pull away in the third lap. His race went better than he expected as he pulled off the win.

JV Boys Division 2

JV Boys D2 was a two person race up front for 18+ miles as Mikael Rodgers of SoCal/South OC Composite and Jake Yackle of NorCal pushed each other and ended up with Rodgers taking the win by 15 seconds. Charles Velez of NorCal/Trojan HS was four minutes back in third. James Goodin of NorCal/Trojan HS finished fourth and Samuel Smith of local team SoCal/Righetti finished fifth.

Rodgers summed things up saying, “The deciding factor for me winning this race was the last climb. Without my dad being there to tell me to stand up and go regardless of how tired I felt, I wouldn’t have won. My race couldn’t have gone any better. It was definitely the most challenging race I’ve done because the competition was so close and there was never time to recover. Being able to win this race is a true honor, and I look forward to what my last SoCal season will bring me next year!”

Yackle said, “Although I feel that I had a great all-around race, I preformed as I expected to and trained for in all aspects of the race and race course! However, I knew going into this JV D2 race, that this group had the most talented, fastest Junior Varsity Racers in the State, and that with a 12th position, 3rd row Call-up I needed an excellent Start, followed by a equally excellent race through the 1st climb. I was able to do that as Charlie Velez, Mikael Rodgers and I gapped the rest and I never looked back from there!”

Deeply bermed turns makes the steep climbs seem almost worth it. -Photo by Elizabeth Pang

JV Girls

JV Girls was a show of dominance by Gwendalyn Gibson of SoCal/Ramona HS as she won by over three minutes in the 12+ mile race. As a 10th grader she’ll have two more years of high school racing to prove her mettle in the Varsity field. Megan Pfeiffer of NorCal/Oakland Composite took second. Haley Peery of SoCal/Woodcrest Christian HS was third a couple of minutes behind Pfeiffer while Kayla Nelson of SoCal/Trabuco Hills was a strong fourth and Lauren Ostrander of NorCal/Woodcreek HS rounded out the podium in fifth.

Sophomore Boys Division 1

Sophomore Boys D1 saw two series winner jerseys battling off the front together for their 12+ mile race. In the end, Cameron Joye of SoCal/Great Oak HS took the win followed by Noah Lindenthal of NorCal/Salinas HS in second. Trevor Hunter of SoCal/Foothill HS was in third two minutes back. He was followed closely by Ethan Wolfe of NorCal/Woodcreek HS in fourth and Justin Hurdle of SoCal/Newbury Park HS in fifth.

Joye credits strong technical skills with solid climbing for his win saying, “I made a pass before the final single track climb and used my fast descending to my advantage in order to break away and take the win. The most challenging part of the course for me was the first climb, because it is steep and relatively long, and my competitor was very strong up it. The race went mostly as I hoped and expected, because coming in the goal was to win and I was able to achieve that goal. I couldn’t believe that I was able to put 2 minutes on third place! I think that shows that I’ve been working hard and I am preparing to be strong in varsity next year.”

Hunter had similar feedback to Joye saying he excelled on the downhills and held his own on the climbs. He cramped during the second lap and was happy to be able to maintain his position until the race finish.

The folks in this balloon had a great view of the racing. -Photo by Robert Koen

Sophomore Boys Division 2

The Sophomore Boys D2 race was similar to the Sophomore Boys D1 race. Two riders got away in the 12+ mile race and they distanced the following group by two minutes. Tate Meintjes of NorCal/Reno Tahoe Composite took the win with Alexander Sugarman of Annadel Composite taking second. Forest Murnane of NorCal/El Molino high school led in the next three riders who were pretty tightly packed. Thomas Fuller of SoCal/Redlands Home School was fourth and Alex Nelson of SoCal/Redlands Composite was fifth.

Meintjes said, “I think the key point in my race was the peak of the last climb because I knew no one would pass. Finally the race went exactly how I planned. Even better actually because I was able to stay in the front for the whole race and finished a state champion.”

Sugarman noted, “The race went well, Tate Meintjes and I battled for first. He got far ahead at the beginning, but the second lap I was slowly catching up to him, just could not fill that final gap between us. I am very satisfied with my second place.”

Murnane said he loved the downhills with the bumps and was challenged by the switchback climb just after the start (the Firestone Wall).

Top 5 in each field got one of these. When finished wearing it as a medal it’s actually a belt buckle! -Photo by Tony Gamberutti

Sophomore Girls

Kyra Jeffery of NorCal/Santa Cruz Mountains Composite took a decisive win in the Sophomore Girls class seizing victory over Zoe Wu of NorCal by just over two minutes in their 12+ mile race. Wu was, in turn, only a few seconds ahead of Jordyn Watkins of SoCal/Redlands Adventist Academy who took third. Whitney Huff of NorCal/San Domenico HS finished a minute back in fourth and Sarah Brennan of NorCal/Nevada Union Miners HS rounded things out in fifth.

Jeffery commented on her win saying she overcame knee pain and pre-race nerves but once she hit the Firestone Wall she was relieved to be racing and pushing hard up the loose, steep climb.

Wu liked the uphills more than the downhills saying, “The steep uphills were my forte during the race, surprisingly. During the flat and downhill sections of the race, my placing switched around a lot, and I wasn’t sure what the end result would be. But once I hit the last uphill, passed some people, and gained distance on third, I realized that the podium might just be in sight. The amount of people that showed up really surprised me. It’s amazing to see how many people (especially girls) who are just as enthusiastic about mountain biking as you are. Also, the sportsmanship out on the course was great. Racers were encouraging each other during the ride and passing one another courteously and safely. State Championships was a great experience, and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to try again.”

Watkins said, “The climbs and working with Zoe Wu in the race allowed me to finish on the podium with an amazing and talented group of riders, but the biggest thing that enabled me to do well was all the valuable advice from my coaches. My favorite part of the course was the downhill single tracks, on the amazing oak tree studded rolling hills. But the best part was seeing my family, friends, coaches, and teammates along with everyone else cheer on all the riders during the race.”

Three series winners battling at the front off the start. Only one State Champion jersey available. -Photo by Tony Gamberutti

Freshman Boys Division 1

The Freshman Boys D1 race went from a lead group of four riders after the first lap to two groups of two riders out front in the second lap in the 12+ mile race. In the end it was Jonah Sanchez of SoCal/Murrieta Mesa HS taking the win by a handful of seconds over Wyatt Miceli of NorCal/Sir Francis Drake HS. About a minute back it was Craig Oday of NorCal/Redwood HS taking third over Blaise Janssen of SoCal/Yucaipa HS with Julian Lepelch or NorCal/Tamalpais rounding things out in fifth.

Sanchez summarized things saying, “During most of the race, it was a group of four guys. Blaise Janssen (Yucaipa HS), myself, and two other NorCal experienced riders (Wyatt Miceli, Drake HS and Craig Oday, Redwood HS). We were together until the first switchback climb on the second lap. Wyatt made an attack there, and I was the only person in our break that could stay with him. For the rest of the second lap it was back and forth between both of us. I knew that some how I had to take the lead before the final downhill, because there was no passing. I decided to make my pass on the last fire road of the race (Not the finishing stretch) If I didn’t make that move, I would have possibly finished with a second place.”

Freshman Boys Division 2

Freshman Boys D2 was tight at the finish with the top three riders coming in within around 40 seconds. Ben Gomez Villafañe from NorCal took the win with Douglas Lau of SoCal/Redlands Composite in second and Henry Slayer of NorCal/San Lorenzo Valley HS in thirds. Daniel McFadden of NorCal/Oakland Composite came in for fourth two minutes back and Jack Fitzpatrick of SoCal/Corona Composite finished fifth.

Gomez Villafañe said, “My winning move was just simply pushing a harder faster pace after the steep part on the first climb. Saw that i had a small gap and I just kept charging. Going into the race I was really nervous. I was shaky at the start until the whistle blew. My goal was a top three finish not knowing what most of the competition would be like. Getting away on the first climb was a relief because it assured me that I was strong. Kept pushing on the pedals even though I had a big gap going into lap 2. Biggest part was having clean passes of the D1 riders and keeping the rubber side down. The course was great at race speed. It had good flow and enjoyed my time out there!”

Slayer noted, “The key point for me was the first two miles of the race. Getting out into the front of the pack enabled me to avoid bottlenecking as we dropped onto the single track climbs and descents. My favorite part of the course was the sweeping descents in the second half, with huge bermed corners. Probably the most dipped I’ve been on the XC bike in a long time. The most challenging segment for me was the switchback climb. It was steep, loose and packed with riders, a true test of finesse. For me, the race was a totally humbling experience. I rode most of the second lap strategizing with my fellow rider Douglas, who snatched a second place finish. We worked together to push each other and motivate one another throughout the second lap. I was beyond happy with my result, and it was inspiring to see such camaraderie between the other riders, regardless of division. This high school cycling league is truly something amazing.”

Racers climb the Firestone Wall with the infield in the background. -Photo by Frank Hoppen

Freshman Girls

Micah Mason of SoCal/Tehachapi HS capped a perfect season with a strong victory in the 12+ mile Freshman Girls race coming in about a minute and a half ahead of second place Meade Plum of SoCal/Mono Inyo County Home School. Third place Aubrey Milner of NorCal/Reno Tahoe Composite came in a minute behind Plum and just outsprinted fourth place finisher Hanna Fleming of NorCal/Scotts Valley HS. Mackenzie Lewis of NorCal/Woodcreek HS finished fifth.

Mason noted, “Once I went out for the second lap and had a lead on my SoCal competitor, I felt strong and confident that I could be on the podium. My favorite part of the course was the second switch back climb. All the climbs were fun, but those switch backs reminded me of the trails I train on, so it helped push me through them. The race went a lot better than I hoped. I was afraid my nerves would get the best of me, but once Matt said go, I was having a blast. The temperature was perfect for this awesome weekend and all the support and people cheering made this a season one to remember. I am glad I was able to represent SoCal at this year States.”

Milner said that being able to pass on the right parts of the course was key to getting on the blocks. She was challenged but gained confidence by being able to ride a recently cut section of trail that got pretty blown out as well as by being able to climb the Firestone Wall.

With the 2015 spring high school mountain biking season now completely wrapped up save for a few fun rides, pool parties, and ice cream socials we want to say thank you to all those who have given so generously of their time, energy, and resources over the 15 seasons of high school mountain biking in California. The NorCal League which began at Berkeley High School has truly morphed into a nationwide movement that continues to grow and inspire young student-athletes to get out there and ride their bikes for fun, health, and competition. Though we focus on the victors in most race reports, racing is only a portion of our movement. Those who simply look at high school mountain biking as a race series are completely missing the point. Racing is the most visible portion of what we are building but it is only the tip of the iceberg beneath the surface. We encourage you to get involved in your local team or NICA league as a coach, sponsor, or supporter. It’s not until you’re on the inside that you truly understand the power of NICAs core principles of: inclusivity, equality, strong body, strong mind, and strong character.

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.

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