Lake Isabella, Calif. — The Keyesville race celebrated its fifth edition this year and the course, owing to the lack of precipitation, was the most rugged it’s ever been. With a little bit more sand added to what is already the hardest course of the season this race would likely show who enjoyed “real” mountain biking. Add to that a dose of wind, a pinch of dust, and bake it in a moderately hot oven and you have an interesting recipe. Some racers found they liked the concoction and stepped up above where they’ve been all season, some riders seemed to push back from the table a little bit, and a few riders seemed to keep on trucking oblivious to the challenges and finished in the positions they’ve been occupying for most of the season. With only one more race in the SoCal Series (SoCal Finals at Vail the weekend of April 25-26) the excitement is now at a crescendo and it will be exciting to watch the final efforts unfold!
Hard from start to finish. The wall the riders hit as they leave the infield. -Photo by Juan Johnson
So far this season Crescenta Valley has had D1 locked down. With their fourth win in a row that didn’t change at Keyesville. It’s very clear that several years of hard and patient work with good coaching and parent support have put them in a solid position to make a run at the D1 series championships and the riders are doing everything they can to fulfill that dream. After Crescenta Valley things have been a little bit different with several teams — some young and full of potential and some seasoned and veteran — jockeying for position. At Keyesville it was Foothill High School from the OC making its first EVER trip to the podium taking second in dramatic fashion while Newbury Park returned to the box finishing in third. In the overalls going into Finals it’s Crescenta Valley, Newbury Park, Great Oak, Yucaipa, and Foothill in the top five spots.
Coach Rowton of Crescenta Valley said, “Keyesville is our favorite course. We are always excited to go there and enjoy the beauty of the Sequoia foothills. The day went as we had hoped. The team rode well and everyone contributed. We feel good going into the finals, but we know that we have to remain focused and committed to striving to be the best that we can be. Congratulations to the Foothill team who performed incredibly well under very difficult circumstances.”
Coach Legge of Newbury Park added, “Our whole team has been climbing in the standings as the season progressed, so we expected good results. We placed our first girl on the podium ever, Autumn Ramirez, 5th, Sophomore girls. She dug deep, it was great to watch. Melody Nanfito finished just off the JV podium in 6th in her 3rd bike race ever.
Our Varsity riders had many difficulties resulting in no Varsity scoring points, so the rest of the team came through big to make up for those points. A real team effort. Our entire team is now qualified for state, so we are very happy.”
Keep looking forward. Always look forward. Disregard the pain. -Photo by Erin Garrett
In D2 competition it was three of the same teams that have been changing podium places all season meaning the parity in D2 is very high. One wrong move and a team could find itself in a different spot after the final race or even off the box. Redlands Adventist Academy took the win followed by Redlands Home School in second and Woodcrest Christian in third. In the overalls with one race left it’s Redlands Adventist Academy, Redlands Home School, Redlands East Valley, Woodcrest Christian, and Righetti rounding out the top five.
Coach Wilber of Redlands Adventist Academy said, “Keyesville is always a special race. As a team we love the beautiful venue and the trails are so much fun to ride! Each year there are different challenges and this year with more sand was no exception. There are so many great memories. Riders from other teams showing sportsmanship in staging welcoming one of our new riders in his first race, a parent hug at the start line, riders collapsing into team mates arms as they finished their race having given it everything they had, fist bumps, sportsmanship, and humility. This is High School Mountain Bike racing!”
Push those pedals over. One by one. The climb will end eventually! -Photo by Elizabeth Nelson
Different from D1 and D2, Composite team competition has been locked all season meaning the podium positions are pretty similar. Corona Composite took the win followed by San Diego Composite and Redlands Composite. In team competition it’s the same three teams in the same order.
Coach Estrada of San Diego Composite noted, “I’m very pleased with the race and our riders. The team was very excited as we knew it would be a very challenging but fun course and everyone on the team rose to the challenge. With only one more race left in the series we feel good about our chances to finish on the podium as a team, and that would be a great accomplishment for us as we really respect all the teams and their riders. One real memorable moment at the race was seeing the accomplishment on the face of our rider Oskar Muñoz after a breakthrough race and finishing real close to the top ten.”
Nowhere to relax at Keyesville. -Photo by Daniel Schroeder
In the Varsity Boys field this is the first time in many years where there has been such a battle. Four races, four winners. Add to that new faces on the podium at nearly every race and it’s clear that this is a very strong field! Daniel Johnson won the SoCal Varsity Series last season winning four of five races as a Sophomore. Unfortunately he suffered an injury during the winter that forced him to realign his training plans and work hard to play catch up. He took second at race two but decided not to contest race three so that he could take some much needed recovery time. It seemed to have worked! Though he did not have a call up (call ups are based on overall points and missing a race basically puts you out of call ups for the rest of the season) he was on a mission as he hunkered down and led the pack early on. He never looked back as he rode the whole race solo and off the front putting about a minute into his closest competitor each lap. Imeh Nsek of Corona Composite took a very strong second place in the race. After winning the opening round at Lake Perris, a much easier course than Keyesville, he dropped a couple of spots at Vail and then DNFd in the heat at Castaic. Coming into this race it almost appeared as if he was writing off the season. Clearly that wasn’t the case as he reminded the rest of the Varsity field that he finished second overall last year. Though he wasn’t quite up to Johnson’s speed Nsek and third place Jaron Cappos of Ramona High School distanced the rest of the field with Nsek besting Cappos by a tight margin. Cappos decided to pull off the best race of his season and, with consistency being the key in overalls, he grabbed hold of the Leader Jersey going into the finals.
Clearly the Varsity Boys race will be exciting at Finals! In individual overall competition the lowest score is dropped at the conclusion of the final race (it’s the best four of five races in the series for season overall awards) and bonus points are awarded to riders who finish every race. Additionally, podium depth for each field is different and is based on the total size of the field over the season. What this means is that you must not only be fast but you must be resilient and that overall standings can shift dramatically at the final race. Going into Finals Varsity Boys is Cappos, Jason Rowton of Crescenta Valley, Evander Hughes of Great Oak, Bradley Breyer of Redlands East Valley, and Hunter Weiss. Varsity Boys series overall podium will be six places deep.
Johnson described the following, “Keysville is one of my favorite venues for the NICA series and this year was perfect weather for the race. I started form a little deeper in the field this weekend but was able to get a good start and lead out in the top group before the first turn. I settled in quick to a solid race pace and was able to keep it going for the
duration of race. This course has a little more climbing but still allows for some good flow. At Keysville I noticed all the people out on course cheering every one on. I really appreciate those who were cheering me on, makes it fun!”
Cappos said, “I always love Keyesville in general, the course is pretty fun, and the venue is a change from the SoCal landscape that I live in. I enjoyed hanging out with friends in the off time, and I also felt really good in my race, better than I have in a very long time, which lead to me earning a 3rd place finish, my best this season. The course was pretty enjoyable for me, in my opinion it had just the right mixture of fire road (for passing majorities of slower riders) and singletrack that was fun to ride. The course kept me on my game pretty much the whole race, you couldn’t daydream or you would be going off the trail pretty quick. I also want to say thank you to other racers who quickly let me by on the singletrack parts of the course, it makes it safer for everyone!”
Great support is welcomed by riders! -Photo by Heather Breyer
It was at Keyesville last year where Geraldine Guerrero of San Diego Composite first blipped onto the radar. She was racing Sophomore Girls and hadn’t won all season. She decided to ride away from the field and win the hardest race of the season. This year she did the same to the Varsity Girls. She hunkered down and proceeded to put nearly five minutes into the rest of the field over three grueling laps. And in the process she took back the series lead — by one point! Clearly the Varsity Girls race will be exciting to watch at the Finals. With near mathematical certainty the series winner will be Guerrero or Madeline Bemis of Corona Composite. And in a first, it’s possible that they could finish in a tie! THAT is how close their competition is! At Keyesville it was Bemis finishing second to Guerrero and Daniel Emter of Trabuco Hills riding a fantastic race to finish third. In overall standings it’s Guerrero, Bemis, Karina Fuentes of Redlands East Valley, Hannah Binder of Tustin, and Emter. Varsity Girls series overall podium will be four places deep.
Guerrero said, “It was very special to have such a great race at Keyesville since it’s my favorite course and being able to repeat last year’s finish made it even more memorable. I feel good going into finals, it’s going to be a decisive race, everybody is going to bring their “A” game, I know for sure it’s going to be really exciting.”
No part of the season is easy but Keyesville is HARD! -Photo by Tony Gamberutti
JV Boys Division 1
JV Boys D1 was an exciting and tactical race with nearly a totally different podium but the winner ended up being the same, Trevor McCutcheon of Great Oak High School. The lead group of five riders came through the finish as a tight knit group for the first two laps and all finished within about a minute at the conclusion of the race. McCutcheon likes sprint finishes as he has been in one almost every race of his now two years of high school racing. This race was no different as he just nipped Ben Bennett of Foothill who took second for his best finish of the season. Chris Taylor of Foothill took third. In the season overalls it’s McCutcheon, Matt Wennerstrom of Newbury Park, Bennett, Bradley Murrill of Beaumont, and Kahlo Chitraroff of Murrieta Mesa. JV Boys D1 is the largest field in SoCal and series overall podium places will run 13 deep.
JV Boys Division 2
JV Boys D2 was a display of power similar to the Varsity Boys race. Mikael Rodgers of South OC Composite put over four minutes into second place over three laps as he rode solo off the front from the start. Second place went to Ama Nsek of Corona Composite who distanced the rest of the field and rode solo as well. Third went to Glen Cortez of Tustin who must have liked the hard course as he had his best finish this season. In the overalls it’s Rodgers, Nsek, Samuel Smith of Righetti, Steven Nadaskai of Mission Viejo, and Caden Gruber of Corona del Mar. JV D2 series overall podium will be 12 places deep.
Rodgers liked the course and commented, “I thought the course was super fun! Everything was rougher, and bumpier, and sandier than last year, but I liked it! My strong suit as a rider is the downhill, so this was by far the best venue yet. I had a fun night with friends the night before the race. We played cards and just had a lot of fun, and it took away a lot of the nervousness about the race!”
A little bit of extra sand never made things easier. -Photo by Juan Johnson
In the JV Girls race it was again Gwendalyn Gibson of Ramona off the front for the win. Considering she only started riding last year as a freshman she has a very bright future in mountain biking. Second place went to Kayla Nelson of Trabuco Hills who has had a super consistent season. Third place went to Haley Peery of Woodcrest who is also having a fantastic and consistent season. In the overalls it’s Gibson, Nelson, Dee-Anna Lopez of Crescenta Valley, Tara Neuville of El Toro, and Jennifer Solis of Yucaipa. JV is the largest girls field this season and overall podiums will be six places deep.
Sophomore Boys Division 1
Cameron Joye of Great Oak has clearly seized the initiative in D1 Sophomore Boys taking his third win in a row and leading from start to finish in this two lap race. Trevor Hunter of Foothill took a strong second and Justin Hurdle of Newbury Park finished third. In the overalls it’s Hunter, Joye, Joshua Dupree of Beaumont, Ian Bowden of Newbury Park, and Hurdle. Sophomore D1 series overall podium will be 10 places deep.
Hunter had his best finish of the season and chalked it up to the fact that he was on spring break leading into the race and his family spent the whole week camping and riding motorcycles at Keyesville. He feels strong going into Finals.
Grit. -Photo by Elizabeth Nelson
Sophomore Boys Division 2
Alex Nelson of Redlands Composite took the opportunity of the hardest course to win his first race of the season in Sophomore Boys D2. He was followed in second by podium newcomer David Stringfellow of Julian Composite with Thomas Fuller of Redlands Home School taking third. In the overalls it’s Fuller, Nelson, Parker Arnold of Trinity, Christopher Martinez of San Diego Composite, and Zack Villars of Victor Valley Composite. Sophomore D2 series overall podium will be nine places deep.
Nelson noted that, “I don’t really feel one way or another about SoCal finals. It will be a hard race, but I will do my best and see how it turns out. One thing I’ve learned is that nothing is for sure until you cross the finish line. This race was memorable to me because it was the first SoCal race I have won. It was a hard race, but very fun.”
Fuller said, “For Keyesville this year we rented a house to stay in with other Redlands Homeschool families; sharing meals, playing games, and hanging out with my teammates was awesome and made for a memorable race weekend. Each race is a new race; however, I am excited for the SoCal Finals because any course at Vail Lake is guaranteed to be fun and flowy. The Sophomore D2 field has had a lot of podium changes because the riders are so strong and fast. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Single file before heading out on the first lap means a fast race is coming! -Photo by Tony Gamberutti
Sophomore Girls has been a see-saw battle between Alexis Vitale of Temecula Composite and Jordyn Watkins of Redlands Adventist Academy. Watkins took the win at Keyesville with Vitale finishing second and Michelle Cabanas of Foothill taking third. In the overalls it’s Vitale, Watkins, Cabanas, Sidra Aghababian of Calabasas in fourth, and Alyssa Espino of Yucaipa in fifth. Sophomore Girls series overall podium will be four places deep.
Watkins said, “I’d like to thank my coaches, teammates and especially my parents for making the weekend as well as the race a memorable one. This was the first race this season where everyone on the RAA team raced. Michelle Cabañas and Alexis Vitale always race exceptionally well and this race was no different. They both pushed me to do my absolute best. This course is probably one of my favorite. The downhills and single track made up for the less enjoyable climbs. The scenery at Keysville is wonderful as well as the wildlife. I was actually looking forward to seeing some cows during the race.”
Vitale added, “It was a tough course, I led most of the first lap but Jordan attacked on the hill on the second lap overall it was a fun race. The DH was fast and fun. I feel good and I’m pumped the SoCal finals are at Vail.”
Freshman Boys Division 1
Jake Chromy came back from a break at Castaic to win his third Freshman Boys D1 race of the season. Jonah Sanchez of Murrieta Mesa continued his strong finishes taking second. Blaise Janssen of Yucaipa finished third. In the overalls it’s Janssen, Sanchez, Parker Burgett of Great Oak, Frederic Brandt of Crescenta Valley, and Christopher Polvoorde of Hemet. Freshman D1 series overall podium will be eight places deep.
Sanchez is learning and improving as the season progresses and said, “A big thing in racing is good sportsmanship. I try to have a good relationship on and off the course with all the guys that I go head to head with. For me and Jake Chromy, we basically did the whole race together. He beat me right at the line. We have never had a sprint finish together in our cycling careers. Its really a blessing to make memories with true friends. Heading into SoCal Finals, I feel really confident. After riding Keysville and Castaic, I feel super pumped! After preparing for all these races, with hydration and riding tactics, I think finals is anyone’s game.”
Who put an RV Park in the middle of nowhere? SoCal! -Photo by Tony Gamberutti
Freshman Boys Division 2
Jack Fitzpatrick of Corona Composite took his second win in a row at Keyesville. He was followed by Dakota Greer of Rim of the World and Jonah Dinger of Redlands Home School who finished a very tight second-third. In the overalls it’s Fitzpatrick, Greer, Dinger, Travis Claypool of Murrieta Valley, and Ethan Elisara of Julian Composite. Freshman D2 series overall podium will be nine places deep.
Greer liked the course saying, “I thought the more technical course helped me a lot during the race and suited my style of riding.” Dinger added, “Keyesville was my best finish yet. The sprint for 3rd was super close which made it exciting.”
Micah Mason of Tehachapi finished her fourth race with her fourth win in Freshman Girls. Meade Plum of Mono Inyo County Home School took a very strong second. Destiny Arce of Redlands East Valley was very consistent in third. In the overalls it’s Mason, Plum, Arce, Hayley Richards of Murrieta Mesa, and Kara Thompson of Redlands Home School. Freshman Girls series overall podium will be five places deep.
Mason summed up her race saying, “This race definitely pushed me harder than the past races, which was a great experience. Heading into the SoCal Finals I am feeling very prepared, my coaches have trained me well and helped me to keep my focus on the SoCal Finals and the State Championship. I have been blessed to do well on the first four races, so my focus now is to continue working hard and set my goal on winning State. This course had a lot of technical up and downs which I find challenging and fun. In my opinion, this course was the most challenging so far this year.”
With SoCal Finals looming on the horizon less than two weeks away it will be interesting to see which riders and teams put their preparations in place to excel. And while we concentrate on the podium places in the race reports it’s also critical to note how riders throughout each field are setting and achieving goals and going above and beyond what they thought possible. Mountain biking is a challenging sport that leaves plenty of room for individual success. We have no bench warmers in the SoCal League! Every rider is encouraged to take to the start chute and work their hardest. Every rider is cheered for their efforts and it’s so great to see riders coming across the line with dust in their teeth, sweat on their brow, and smiles on their faces!
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.