Los Olivos, Calif. — The third annual California State High School Mountain Bike Championships once again brought together a large group of top student-athletes from the NorCal and SoCal Leagues, this time hosted by SoCal at the scenic SG Dirt Club in Los Olivos on May 15th. A friendly but very competitive rivalry was renewed on a fast, bumpy, six-mile course featuring abundant singletrack and several long, flat fire road sections punctuated by short, steep climbs. Under ideal racing weather a total of 454 student-athletes representing 56 schools battled for individual and team honors.
Matt Gunnell, the Executive Director of the SoCal League, said, "Speaking as the race director it was awesome to see so many student-athletes from all over California giving it their all on a challenging course. Speaking as the SoCal League director it was a reality check. Though we are becoming deeper and more competitive as a League, as evidenced by two State Championship jerseys and multiple podiums, the NorCal League is still the 1000-pound gorilla in the room with large teams and almost universally refined training programs. It will be exciting to watch SoCal come back year after year and steadily increase its overall competitiveness."
Matt Fritzinger, who formed the NorCal League 11 years ago and now heads the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, stated, “I’m so incredibly pleased at how well SoCal did putting on an event that was double the size of anything they’ve done before. The racing was really exciting with so much close competition between the two leagues. SoCal is quickly catching up, in both size and depth of talent. And what’s going on in California as a result of 11 years of high school mountain biking is having an impact nationally. Having folks like Matt Gunnell in SoCal and Vanessa Hauswald in NorCal running the leagues while I’m able to expand to new states is a dream come true.”
There is always considerable pride on the line in the team competition, with points from each team’s best finishes added together to determine overall winners in two divisions.
In Division 1 (for teams with 12 or more riders), the day’s top squad was defending champion Sir Francis Drake High School, followed by Redwood High School and San Rafael High School. According to Drake Head Coach Paul Chourre, “No matter where we go our goal is to have fun and to win. It’s a precedent that carries us through every race, an attitude that’s been built over the years.” Team Director Dan Freeman added, “We don’t miss a step. There’s always someone at every level—from parents to teachers to the community—to provide team support. We think it’s the best program in the country at the high school level. We’re very proud of what we do.”
Topping the Division 2 standings this year was Woodcreek High School, with Trojans High School Composite and Marin Catholic in second and third overall. “We’re excited,” said Woodcreek Head Coach Jim Winne. “We had a great group of kids this year. We felt we had a championship level team. We made a commitment back in October to do our very best efforts in training and at the races, and everybody managed to have their best races in the biggest events.”
A compelling four-lap, 24-mile, 41-rider Varsity Boys race boiled down to a three-way skirmish between Tobin Ortenblad (Independent), Taylor Smith (Marin Catholic) and Casey Williams (Independent). SoCal’s Williams tried repeatedly to shed his NorCal rivals, but in the process completely drained his energy reserves and had no answer to a final attack by Ortenblad in the last few miles. Amazingly, Smith came back from a last-lap fall that broke his front shifter and was able to catch Williams as well for second—in his small chainring!
“I felt great,” said Ortenblad afterward. “I started the season pretty slow, but I could feel myself getting stronger towards the end of the season and I guess I peaked at the right time.”
The closest first-place finish of the day came in Varsity Girls, when Shayna Powless (Independent) edged Maren Cosens (Trojans Composite) by just two seconds after 18 miles of racing. According to Powless, “Four of us had broken away on the second lap, and then I was able to get away from them on the downhill section in the back on the last lap. But Maren caught back up on the flats right before the finish, and we sprinted it out from there. I feel really good to have won such a great race. I can’t wait for next year.”
Sophia Hamilton (Drake) crossed the line just 15 seconds later to round out the top three in a field of 25.
JV Boys Division 1
The conclusion of the JV Boys D1 race was dramatic. At the end of their three laps, Lucas Newcomb (Drake) and Skyler Taylor (Tamalpais HS) found themselves alone at the front of the 48-rider field with the finish rapidly approaching. In their charge to the line Taylor tangled with a competitor from another class and went down. Newcomb took the win while Jonathan Kaufman (San Rafael HS), who had been at the front for much of the race as well, rolled in for second. Taylor was able to regroup in time for third.
As Newcomb related, “On the third lap Skyler and I broke away from Johnny, and we knew it was going to be a sprint at the end. Unfortunately he knocked bars with another rider and fell. I felt really bad for him, but I’m happy to have the win.”
JV Boys Division 2
The SoCal League’s best showing of the day came in the form of a top-three sweep of the 58-strong JV Boys D2 race. Shane Skelton (Independent) came from a back-of-the-pack start to win going away, with Joel Titius (Corona Composite) and Garrett Gaither (Ramona HS) trailing by two minutes. “I started in the third row from the back, so it was pretty hectic going into the singletrack,” said Skelton later. "But I was able to work my way through and made my move on the leader on the second lap and checked out. It was a fun race, definitely one of the races I wanted to do good in this year.”
Josie Nordrum (Redwood HS) dominated the JV Girls race, finishing her two laps over seven minutes in front of the 25-rider field. Amber Pacheco (Independent) and Elizabeth Maguire (Casa Grande HS) completed the top three.
“I just raced as hard as I could the whole time,” said Nordrum. “I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at NICA for putting this on. I know so much work went into it, and it totally paid off because everyone is having a great day. I also want to say thank you to my coaches, who definitely put their heart and soul into it. Finally, I want to say I hope Vanessa Hauswald gets better soon; I rode for her today.”
Sophomore Boys Division 1
The two league class champions squared off in Sophomore Boys D1, with NorCal’s Dillon Charlton (Tamalpais HS) coming out on top of a hard-fought race with SoCal’s Wyatt Myers (Independent). Finishing third just six seconds later was Jeremy Slavitz (Branson HS). A total of 48 athletes filled the class.
As Charlton tells it, “It was a good race. The SoCal leader was really fast and he dropped me going up the climb on the second lap, but on the third I managed to catch back up on the downhill and was able to make the pass for the win.”
Sophomore Boys Division 2
It was another NorCal versus SoCal champions duel in Sophomore Boys D2, and again it was NorCal with a narrow victory. Nathan Murcia (Woodcreek HS) was a little stronger on the last lap and was able to move away from Ivan Robles (Bike Bakersfield) and Derek Hobden (Monte Vista HS, these two crossing the line almost side-by-side to round out the top three among 34 other riders.
“Ivan was a tough guy to beat; he did good,” admitted Murcia. “I think I was pretty well prepared coming into this event. I didn’t feel great yesterday, but I had a good warmup this morning. I’m so happy; it’s a great emotion to win.”
Molly Radosevich (El Cerrito HS) led from start to finish in the 19-rider Sophomore Girls race, finishing her two laps comfortably ahead of Emily Cerna (Salinas HS) and Annie Brow (San Rafael HS). “I was a little nervous at the start,” said Radosevich. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from the SoCal riders. There were a couple of brutal hills but it was a fun course overall.”
Freshman Boys Division 1
Tanner Peery (Woodcrest Christian) and Kenny Valdez (Hemet HS) raced each other close all season in SoCal’s Freshman Boys D1 class, and that campaign continued at the State Championships. Peery crossed the finish line in front, but only after fending off one of many attacks from Valdez in the closing moments. Marcus Segedin (Redwood HS) finished third in this 60-rider event.
As Peery told it, “It was a real close race with Kenny. We were together the entire race. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I’d get away for a little bit, and he’d catch right back up. The difference? Willpower, I guess. I’m definitely happy with my result.”
Freshman Boys Division 2
Despite a stumble at a critical moment on the first lap, Hunter Olivier (Woodcreek) was able to prevail in the largest class of the event, with 70 riders in the Freshman Boys D2 race. “I went to pass the leader at the bottom of the first climb and we rubbed elbows and I tipped over,” explained Olivier. “I ended up having to run halfway up the climb. It took me most of the first lap to work my way back to the front and catch the leader, Aleck Crofoot, who I’ve been battling with all year. I was able to build about a 30-second lead by the top of the climb on the second lap, and increased it from there. I’ve been training for this race all year, hoping to be my strongest, and I was.”
Crofoot (Trojans Composite) held on for second, with Kyle Skeen (Ramona HS) rolling in for third just 12 seconds later.
Amanda Winne (Woodcreek HS) has been unstoppable all year in the Freshman Girls class. After winning every NorCal race, she topped the State Championships by over three minutes. “In the beginning my legs were not the best, but I made the pass for the lead on the first big climb and tried to open a good, solid gap. The rest of the race I just tried to maintain it. It’s been a really cool experience.” Cara Woods (Terra Linda HS) and Dalma Feleny (Rim of the World HS) finished second and third in a field of 24.
About The National Interscholastic Cycling Association
Founded in 2009, The National Interscholastic Cyling Association (NICA) is the National Governing Body for grades 9-12 interscholastic mountain biking and fosters the development of high quality competitive cross-country mountain biking programming for high school aged athletes. NICA provides leadership, governance and program support to promote the development of interscholastic Mountain Biking Leagues throughout the United States. NICA League exists by virtue of generous donors and sponsors including the founding national sponsor, Specialized Bicycle Components, as well as Easton Foundations, SRAM, Trek Bicycles, Clif Bar and Co., Primal Wear, Shimano, NCNCA, Touchstone Climbing and Fitness, Santa Cruz Bicycles, GU Sports, Kinetic, Maxxis, Mike's Bikes, El Monte RV, Sheila Moon, Turner Bikes, Dr. John Gunnell Oncology, adidas Eyewear, CamelBak, Crank Brothers, Dirt Rag, Feedback Sports, Fort Lewis College, Fox Racing Shox, Mellow Johnny's, Mountain Bike Action, QBP, Ritchey Designs, WTB and Yakima. For more information on NICA visit www.nationalmtb.org or call 510.524.5464.