2010 NICA California State MTB Championships

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San Rafael's Will Curtis celebrates winning the Varsity Boy's race ahead of SoCal's Zach Valdez (Hemet) during the NICA California State Championships at Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley, California on May 16, 2010. © Robert Lowe

San Rafael's Will Curtis wins ahead of SoCal's Zach Valdez (Hemet) during the NICA California State Championships © Robert Lowe

‘Cross racers and our community could learn some lessons from the NorCal and SoCal mountain bike racing leagues. The community has brought students, parents and coaches together to make a successful league in a sport that’s far from the traditional high school competitions.

The level of support that the racers have gathered is enviable – Mike Sinyard of Specialized is one of the founders of the series, and industry giants Trek, Easton and SRAM are on board. Clif Bar supports the NorCal league as well as other Junior programs, including their well-known development ‘cross team.

Given the success of the mountain bike leagues in California, asking why ‘cross couldn’t accomplish a similar feat is an obvious question. ‘Cross is a sport that can be taken into any community, making it very accessible. The shorter distances make the sport more approachable, especially for the beginner. And with the fun that we all know is within those taped turns and barriers, it begs the question of why we haven’t started a league already.

Nearly 500 student athletes from northern and southern California competed on the custom trails at Loma Rica Ranch, seated in the heart of Sierra Nevada Gold Country in Grass Valley, California, as the NorCal and SoCal high school mountain bike racing leagues met fr the second time in as many years to determine the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) California state champions.

The 5.8-mile course mixed steep fire-road climbs, plenty of single track and swoopy, well-bermed turns as the mostly tree-covered circuit eventually sent riders around a quarter-mile horse track before winding through the Loma Rica Ranch. With nearly 70 student athletes from the SoCal League mixing it up with the host NorCal League, there were several exciting finishes throughout the day, as 96 girls and 398 boys rode their hearts out for points and a shot at the California state champion’s jersey in all four categories: Varsity, JV, Soph and Frosh.

Several bike industry VIPs attended the event, including Easton Sports Development Foundation’s Jim Easton, Specialized Bicycle Components owner Mike Sinyard, plus several NICA, NorCal and SoCal board members.

“I’ve been involved in the SoCal League since October 2009,” said Hart district head coach Paula Rogers. “My son Jesse was racing cyclocross and downhill, and I wanted him to keep riding his bike, so I built this team around him. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. Kids like him are awesome athletes; it’s just that when they get off their bikes you have to have somebody there to take care of them. Next year we’ll have four more riders with Asperger’s. We’re recruiting them, some from my son’s Asperger’s program, and we’re also involved with the Special Olympics in Santa Clarita because they recently lost their cycling program. Our team is certainly not just for challenged kids like these, however. We want kids of all kinds. Next year we’ll have 30 riders from five high schools. The more kids we can get on bikes, the more they’ll stay out of trouble and be healthy and green. This is the future of our sport, of the cycling industry.”

NorCal League director Vanessa Hauswald echoed Rogers’ enthusiasm.

“The State Championships is always my favorite race of the year due to the energy and enthusiasm that everyone brings to the event,” Hauswald said. “I especially enjoyed watching the kids from both NorCal and SoCal line up and race together so respectfully and with such sportsmanlike behavior. I learned a lot this season and had a great time working with all the League athletes and coaches. We’re already looking forward to the 2011 season!”

Varsity Boys
San Rafael senior Will Curtis ended his high school racing career by winning the 23.2-mile Varsity Boy’s race in 1:41:53, narrowly beating SoCal Hemet High senior Zach Valdez by two seconds after racing wheel to wheel the entire event. Tony Smith (Marin Catholic) finished third, nearly two-and-a-half minutes behind. Reigning national cyclocross Junior champ Cody Kaiser (Trojan Composite) and Riley Predum (Drake) rounded out the final podium. 46 Varsity boys competed.

Varsity Girls
Sophomore Shayna Powless (Independent) returned to her winning ways after her unbeaten streak was broken by Drake’s Sophia Hamilton at Fort Ord on May 2. Powless won the 17.4-mile Varsity Girl’s race in 1:32:52, while Hamilton finished 3:16 later for second on the day. Victoria Yoham (Marin Catholic), Christine Weir (Nevada Union) and Lauren Catlin (Drake) rounded out the final podium. 24 Varsity girls competed.

JV Boys
In the JV Boy’s Division 1 event, Berkeley High’s Isaiah Rapko took top honors in 1:22:12 over the 17.4-mile course, more than a minute ahead of Redwood High’s Taylor Smith and Folsom’s Sam Wamhoff. Brandon Blakely (Yucaipa High) and Steven Baldock (Nevada Union) rounded out the final podium. 70 JV boys raced the Division 1 event.

In the JV Boy’s Division 2 race, SoCal independent racer Casey Williams won the 17.4-mile event in 1:18:59, beating Tamalpais High’s Spence Peterson by nearly a minute. Santa Cruz teammates Jacob Albrecht and Tobin Ortenblad finished a couple minutes later, followed by Jefferson’s Brandon Dillard. 56 JV boys raced the Division 2 event.

JV Girls
Branson’s Kate Courtney kept her season-long winning streak alive and well, taking the JV Girls 11.6-mile race in 1:03:40, beating runner-up Sofia Gomez-Villafane (Wildcat Racing) by more than three minutes. Emma Arata (Nevada Union), Renee Salva (Trojan Composite) and Rainee Chandler (Salinas) rounded out the final podium. 35 JV girls competed.

Soph Boys
In the Soph Boy’s Division 1 race, Newport Beach’s Alex Milewski won the 17.4-mile event in 1:28:19, beating Drake’s Mitch Calder by 32 seconds. Devin Eastman (Redwood High), Steven Larson (Salinas) and John Morehouse (Casa Grande) rounded out the day’s final podium. 68 Soph boys raced the Division 1 event.

In the Soph Boy’s Division 2 race, Branson’s Eliel Anttila won the 17.4-mile event in 1:24:30, nearly a minute ahead of independent runner-up Cody Phillips. Bob Siegel (Tamalpais), Nick Price (Jefferson) and Charlie Cone (Novato) rounded out the final podium. 34 Soph boys competed in the Division 2 event.

Soph Girls
San Ramon’s Emily Lawrence won the Soph Girl’s 11.6-mile race in 1:19:17, beating her teammate Kaitlyn Elvidge by a hair under three minutes. Emily Anderson-Merritt (Berkeley), Hanne Andersen (Miramonte) and Libby Caldwell (Drake) rounded out the final podium. 17 Soph girls competed.

Frosh Boys
In the Frosh Boy’s Division 1 event, Drake’s Lucas Newcomb finished the 11.6-mile course in 0:58:37, nipping runner-up Jonathan Kaufman (San Rafael) at the line one second ahead. Daniel Szawarzenski (Drake), Alex Bagg (Yucaipa High) and John Newcomb (Drake) rounded out the day’s podium. 65 Frosh Division 1 boys raced the event.

In the Frosh Boy’s Division 2 event, Tamalpais High’s Alex Howard won the 11.6-mile event in 0:57:00, with only one second separating independent racer Ryan Stevens and Lawrence Smith (Marin Catholic) a minute later for second and third. Howard’s Tamalpais teammate Skyler Taylor finished fourth, just two seconds ahead of independent racer Jack Keane. 49 Frosh boys competed in the Division 2 event.

Frosh Girls
Redwood High’s Josephine Nordrum won the Frosh Girl’s 11.6-mile race in 1:15:37, beating independent racer and Dominique Vanden Dries by a shade over two minutes. Elizabeth Maguire (Casa Grande) finished third, while Annika Hoy (Drake) and Isabella Breen (San Rafael) rounded out the podium. 20 Frosh girls competed.

NorCal Race #4 Team Results
Team results from the May 16 race included combined points from both the NorCal and SoCal Leagues, with the Drake Pirates taking the Division 1 category with 4,404 points, ahead of Nevada Union (4,120) and Redwood High (4,066). For Division 2 teams, Marin Catholic took top honors with 2,229 points, followed by the Branson Bulls (2,126) and Tamalpais High (2,105).

NorCal Final Points Results: Individual
For the NorCal student athletes, the May 16 race counted toward the overall season series points standings, due to the cancellation of race #3 at Boggs Mountain. The category winners were: Boy’s Varsity: Will Curtis – San Rafael (1,725 points); Girl’s Varsity: Shayna Powless – Independent (1,725); Boy’s JV Division 1: Isaiah Rapko – Berkeley High (1,640); Boy’s JV Division 2: Spence Peterson – Tamalpais High (1,639); Girl’s JV: Kate Courtney – Branson (1,650); Boy’s Soph Division 1: Steven Larson – Salinas (1,544); Boy’s Soph Division 2: Eliel Anttila – Branson (1,565); Girl’s Soph: Emily Lawrence – San Ramon (1,560); Boy’s Frosh Division 1: Daniel Szawarzenski – Drake (1,534); Boy’s Frosh Division 2: Alex Howard – Tamalpais (1,575); Girl’s Frosh: Dominique Vanden Dries – Independent (1,544).

NorCal Final Points Results: Teams
Drake High captured the Division 1 overall team award with 16,353 points, ahead of Salinas (15,802) and San Rafael (15,166). In Division 2, Marin Catholic took top honors with 8,060, followed by the Santa Cruz Chain Gang (7,912) and Branson (7,849).

“Our goal this year was to repeat our championship, which hadn’t been done before,” said Drake head coach Paul Chourre. “Every year is different. You think you have it all figured out and then some team shows up from nowhere with a lot of power. It’s been super exciting this year. The secret is keeping it fun. You have to find a balance to not make it too intimidating so newer riders can ease into it, but still make it competitive for those who are. You have victories big and small, individual and team. Little victories are like when a rider finally finishes a race, and big victories are like when a rider is first or second in a big meet like this. It’s so rewarding. You make a difference in kids’ lives every day. It’s an incredible opportunity for kids, to get involved in a sport they can do all their lives.”

NorCal League founder Matt Fritzinger also witnessed his last race as director; Fritzinger is now the executive director of NICA, and has passed the reins to Hauswald.

“It was wonderful how many parents and athletes found me and told me how much the League means to them,” Fritzinger said. “This work has been very gratifying, but I’m also very proud of the NorCal staff we have. They’re doing such a great job.

“It was also a great honor of giving Jim Easton a tour of such a historic and beautiful race venue,” he added. “Jim is on the International Olympic Committee and he and his wife had not yet seen a high school race; they were very impressed. Jim founded the SoCal League, and for him to witness the close Boy’s Varsity finish between NorCal and SoCal was priceless. It was also bitter sweet to watch over 100 seniors gather for the Class of 2010 photo.”

For complete results and additional information please visit Norcalmtb.org.

Loma Rica Ranch
Trails for the NICA 2010 California State Championship were created during the summer of 2009, with more than 900 volunteer hours contributed by the Youth Bicyclists of Nevada County Foundation’s Trail Stewardship Program of teen club members, parents, contractors and local non-profit volunteers. The hilly course was held on a 127-acre parcel with flowy single tracks among stands of old pine and madrone trees. For more information, visit YBONC.

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