Turning Up the Heat at the SoCal Finals
Temecula, Calif. — The 2011 SoCal High School Cycling League season came full circle on May Day, finishing where it started nearly two months earlier—at Vail Lake Resort. With numerous class championships still to be decided after the first three events on the schedule, excitement and intensity ran hot, as did the weather. Very warm, sunny and dry conditions played a significant role, but the 195 student-athletes representing 25 schools once again showed true grit on a challenging 6-mile course to put a big exclamation point on the series.
“After a season of chilly races we switched gears at the Finals with little shade and warm temperatures. However, due to the great preparation by League coaches, we had minimal problems with the temperature change,” said Matt Gunnell, the Executive Director of the SoCal League. “The trails at Vail Lake are always fun and fast with Marine Corps Hill providing endless entertainment for both racers and spectators. However, it was a new singletrack climb after the Clif Feed Zone and a new, twisting descent into the infield that provided many decisive moments in the racing.”
Gunnell is already looking toward next year’s season. “With 32% growth in the average number of racers at each race over 2010 and new clubs already looking ahead toward 2012, the demand for high school mountain biking in SoCal remains very strong,” he stated.
Following three consecutive runner-up finishes, Woodcrest Christian High School broke through for its first Division 1 team victory. “We’ve been battling it out with Hemet since the very first race,” said David Peery, Head Coach of Woodcrest. “Every race we’d close the gap a little bit. We thought today could be the day. I’m really happy and proud of the kids. It’s been a great season. Matt Gunnell and the rest of the staff out here have done a great job and we appreciate it.”
Second on the day in Division 1 (for schools with 12 or more riders) was Yucaipa High School, followed in third by defending champion Hemet High School. But the Hemet High Bulldogs scored well enough to capture the overall series title once again—by just 12 points (9983 to 9971)—over Woodcrest Christian. Hemet Head Coach Pete Kirkham was ecstatic: “The adrenaline is pumping. It’s been a wonderful season and it all came down to this last race. We had a big target on our backs today, but the kids really pulled through.”
As Matt Gunnell described this outcome, “The fact that Division 1 team scoring came down to 12 points between first and second place, where both teams had nearly 10,000 season points, really shows that clubs are developing the sophistication of their training and upping the level of competition.”
Division 2 belonged to San Gabriel Valley Composite at both the SoCal Finals and for the 2011 series. “We feel great about it,” said Head Coach Tom Lockhart. “But it’s all on the riders. The coaches help us get here, but it’s the riders who deserve the credit. We managed to be in the right neighborhood to get Cody Phillips as our top recruit, and a bunch of our other kids did better than I had imagined, so that makes for a fantastic team.”
Ramona High School and Newport Beach Composite finished second and third for the day, while Ramona High and Crescenta Valley Composite were second and third for the season overall.
Casey Williams (Independent) was out for redemption after the mechanical issues he suffered while leading big at the previous round, and he got it. Williams, who will soon be headed to Europe to contest several World Cup events, finished his four laps with a lead of more than four minutes. “I wanted to test my endurance, so I hammered all the way. It’s a good sign. I’m stoked,” he said.
Second today was Cody Phillips (San Gabriel Valley), who had effectively sewn up the class title with wins in the first three series races. “My coach wanted me to take it a little easy and save my legs for the State Championships in two weeks, so I just sat in a zone and kept that pace the whole race,” he explained.
Yucaipa High’s Brady Kiss finished third at Vail Lake, good for second overall in the final class standings. Third in the final tally is Hemet High’s Brandon Kirkham.
What had promised to be a compelling battle for the Varsity Girls crown was tempered by the no-show of series leader Emma Klingaman (Hemet HS), who had come down with pneumonia. That opened the door for Tiana Row (Independent), but she had her work cut out for her as Vhasti Schmidt (Woodcrest Christian) and Hannah Rae Finchamp (San Gabriel Valley) were both riding strongly. But in the end it was Row with her first win of the year, good enough to score her third class championship—a clean sweep in the three-year history of the SoCal League. “I’m really happy and excited to end my senior year with a win. I’ve been trying really hard this whole season,” she stated.
Schmidt and Finchamp finished 2-3 for the day, respectively, with Schmidt securing runner-up for the season. Klingaman rounded out the final series podium.
JV Boys Division 1
The top three in this class for the day and the season were Joel Turner (Hemet HS), Nickolas Schultz (Independent) and Tyler O’Brien (Independent). Turner finished ahead of the 21-rider field by a comfortable margin, saying later, “I feel pretty good about it. I worked hard for this and think I deserved it.”
JV Boys Division 2
In the largest field of the day, with 33 entries, Joel Titius (Corona Composite) claimed both the day’s victory and the JV Boys D2 championship. “I worked hard on the first lap to get away, and it worked. It was tough with the heat, but it all went smoothly,” he said.
Garrett Gaither (Ramona HS) came from behind and then capitalized on a fall by Jesse Rogers (Hart Composite) within sight of the finish line to grab second on the day and in the series; Rogers regrouped for third. Lucas Rowton (Crescenta Valley) finished fourth at Vail Lake and third in the final class standings.
In only her second mountain bike race, Blair Messner (Woodcrest Christian) was a big winner in the JV Girls class. “I just picked up mountain biking two months ago,” said Messner, who has an athletic history in tennis. “I got a good start and pushed hard and kept my lead the whole way. It was hot out there but really fun.”
Ashley Duck (Ramona HS) secured the series title with a runner-up finish at Vail Lake, ahead of Elizabeth Duchetta (San Gabriel Valley). The top three for the year are Duck, McKenzie Melcher (Independent), who was fourth on the day, and Duchetta.
Sophomore Boys Division 1
A strong second lap was decisive for Wyatt Myers (Independent) in Sophomore Boys D1, who made a surge to build a gap on Daniel Gay (Independent). As he put it, “Daniel was right on my wheel after the first lap but I was able to pull away on the second. I was feeling it on the third lap for sure. It was really warm, but it was a great course, a lot different from the first race here.” Rounding out the podium was Daniel Osborne Jr. (Yucaipa HS).
In the final standings it’s Myers with the class championship, followed by Gay and Kevin Tillman (Woodcrest Christian), who was fourth at Vail Lake.
Sophomore Boys Division 2
It was another convincing performance by Ivan Robles (Bike Bakersfield), as he dominated the Sophomore Boys D2 field by over six minutes. “I had a good day,” said the new class champ, “but I think I took off too fast at the start. My lap times slowed, especially on the last lap; I was starting to cramp up.” Rounding out the top three were Tyler Gilmore (San Marino) and Michael van Haaster (Corona Composite).
In the final standings it’s Robles ahead of Devin Arenas (San Gabriel Valley) and Gilmore.
Eighteen girls started in this race and all 18 finished—a great forecast for the sport. Best on this day was Morgan Zurborg (Woodcrest Christian), who enjoyed her first victory ahead of Camila Fernandez (Eastlake HS) and Ashlie Cooper (Newport Beach Composite). According to Zurborg, “I had to start on the third row because I missed the last race and was behind in points. But I caught up before the first big climb, which was my goal. I just wanted to go out hard and finish strong.” She ended the year second in points. With her second place finish, Fernandez held onto the series leader’s jersey for the season. Cooper was third at both Vail Lake and in the final standings.
Freshman Boys Division 1
This was another large field with 30 riders, and coming out on top was Woodcrest Christian’s Tanner Peery, who also claimed the class title. “I felt great this morning and wasn’t really thinking about the championship, so I wasn’t very nervous,” he said. “I led the whole way. Now I’m going to train hard this week for the State Championships.”
Finishing second at Vail Lake was Ryan Warrell (Hemet HS), followed ten seconds later by teammate Kenny Valdez. For the year, it was Peery ahead of Valdez and Warrell.
Freshman Boys Division 2
Jarred Jordan (Murietta Valley HS) clinched the Freshman Boys D2 class championship with a decisive victory at this final series event. “I led right from the start, my bike worked perfectly, I had no problems and was feeling great,” he summarized. “I’m pretty excited about the championship. I can put that down as a major goal accomplished.”
Kyle Skeen (Ramona HS) once again kept Jordan honest, finishing second on the day and in the final standings. Third at both Vail Lake and in the final class points was Josh Turner (Murietta Valley HS).
The final high school mountain bike event of the season is the State Championships, with the SoCal League hosting the NorCal League for the first time. This is a standalone, non-points race pitting the best young mountain bike racers in the state in a winner-take-all shootout at the Stump Grinder Dirt Club at Charlotte’s Meadow near Los Olivos, California, on May 15th.
Upcoming series events:
May 15, State Championships, Los Olivos, CA
About the SoCal High School Cycling League
The SoCal High School Cycling League was organized to provide a well-defined race season for youth racers and to promote the formation of teams at public and private high schools. With the cooperation of local race promoters and our sponsors, the League organizes a first class series of races designed for high school aged riders and is easiest way for youth to get involved in the challenging and exciting world of competitive cycling. The SoCal League was kick-started with a generous grant from the founding SoCal sponsor, Easton Foundations, and is also generously supported by founding national sponsor, Specialized Bicycle Components, as well as Easton Foundations, SRAM, Trek Bicycles, Clif Bar and Co., Primal Wear, Shimano, GU Sports, Kinetic, Maxxis, El Monte RV, Turner Bikes, Dr. John Gunnell Oncology, Adidas Eyewear, CamelBak, Crank Brothers, Creation Engine, Dirt Rag, Feedback Sports, Fort Lewis College, Fox Racing Shox, Mellow Johnny’s, Mountain Bike Action, QBP, Ritchey Designs, and WTB. For more information on the League, visit www.socaldirt.org or contact Matt Gunnell at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. (818) 415-1133.