Temecula, Ca. — After two weeks of ominous weather forecasting SoCal League racers were treated to a day of racing upon hero dirt. A hard and fast Friday night storm gave way to near perfect conditions for the the 752 racers in attendance at race number two of #SoCalSeason8. It was the largest SoCal League race to date and for many who participated Vail Lake was a wake up call. Unlike Perris the Vail course was a constant mix of climbing and descending littered with a variety of sections that required a diversity of technical skills. If anything you could say that, on the technicality scale, it was a complete about face from race number one. Nonetheless the lap times on both Saturday and Sunday proved yet again that SoCal League racers are some of the fastest mountain bikers out there. It was an exhilarating weekend as parents, coaches, sponsors, and racers alike eagerly cheered on each student athlete to cross the finish.
We knew it was going to be an exciting year to watch the D1 category and we certainly are not being disappointed. The top teams are all powerhouses with the skills to grasp a series overall win. As it stands after race two it truly is anyone’s game. Moving up from second at Beach to Boulders Yucaipa HS came in at first. Newbury Park HS took second and Ramona HS came in at Third.
When asked about any insights that he might have into the season coach Mike Bagg from Yucaipa HS remarked that “Ramona, and Newbury Park are incredibly fast teams. They have solid programs and outstanding coaches and athletes. These races are very challenging. It’s anyone’s future!”
His sentiment was echoed in the words of Mike Legge, Head Coach for Newburry Park HS, who said that “Yucaipa and Ramona are all so strong this year” Mike went on to say however that “We train to peak for the end of the season, so I think good things are going to come.”
El Toro celebrating their 1st place victory – photo credit Tim Neuville
El Toro was the 1st place D2 team again. Woodcrest Christian HS moved up to second and Valencia HS came in at third.
According to Head Coach Tim Neuville it was not easy keeping their lead. Nueville said “the race did not go as planned. One of our Varsity Girls was ill and it effected her performance. We were fortunate to have Cameron Natvig racing his first high school race. He placed a solid 11th and had the second fastest split for our team. We are looking for great things in the future from Cameron.”
Head Coach Dave Perry from Woodcrest Christian HS was blessed, no pun intended, with the addition of two more varsity riders to the team. Dave said “we had two varsity racers who had decided not to ride this season that both opted to come back after the Lake Perris race, which is great for us. We knew with two more varsity riders we had a good shot to move up in the standings. The kids worked hard and we were able to move up to 2nd place which was great. We are looking forward to seeing our kids continue to excel and move up in the rankings at the next couple of races. It is going to a challenging but interesting season as usual.”
1st place composite team Temecula Valley Composite on the podium – photo by Brian Kooiman
In the composite category all three top teams held their positions from race one. Temecula Valley Composite came in at first followed by San Diego Composite in second and Corona Composite in third.
Head Coach Brian Kooiman from Temecula Valley Composite gave some great insight into the unexpected things that can happen on race day and the importance of being both prepared and persistent. Kooiman said “the day presented unexpected adversity for some of our riders. Our Varsity Girls rider, Alexis Vitale, had a dropped saddle in the first section of her race. She had to stop to raise the saddle using a loaned tool which cost her a 5 minute penalty and precious time on the repair. She ended up in 15th place after finishing 5th the week before. Two of our JV riders ended up falling during their race and one of our sophomore riders ended up with a broken crank and had to use a second bike (10 minute penalty) to finish the race. On the plus side, these same riders did not let the adversity they faced stop them but instead chose to persevere through the ride. We stress perseverance as a form of stamina and I was pleased to see these four riders continue on even when the race became difficult.”
Varsity Boys leader Daniel Johnson making the turn up Air Force Hill – photo credit Motivation Sports
In typical Vail Lake fashion the the Varsity Boys had the pleasure of racing at the hottest point of the day against a billowing headwind. It was a brutal race culminating in a rare occurrence. In what had to be one of the most exciting moments of the day independent rider Daniel Johnson, 2nd at Perris, took first causing a tie for the Leader Jersey. Mikael Rodgers of San Juan Hills HS, who won at Perris, took 2nd on the day followed by Trevor McCutcheon from Great Oak HS in 3rd. Tyler Weyman from Newbury Park HS took 4th and Jaron Cappos from Ramona HS came it at 5th.
Johnson described his win saying that “racing the NICA series has been super fun the past 3 years. This is my last year and there was no way I was going to miss out on all the fun. The first two races have not disappointed. Vail Lake started out fast and furious as always with Mikael and I getting a gap the first lap on the gradual hill before the Tunnel of Love. We stayed away and I was able to pull away from him on the third lap. I kept my head down and added time to the gap the last two laps. It’s always a little nerve racking at the beginning of a new season when you are not sure how you will measure up. I’m happy about my results so far and glad to share the Leader Jersey with Mikael.”
The tie for the Leader Jersey sets the stage for what will most likely be a spectacular day of racing at Lake Castaic if not the remainder of the season. It’s too early to call now but if the two racers continue to trade places they could end up tied again going into SoCal Finals. Only time will tell and for now the only certainty is that there can be only one series leader at the conclusion of race three.
Gwen Gibson proves that even the fastest riders get to run their bikes sometimes – photo by Michael Wanger
Vail Lake may have brought a more technical course and for these ladies that meant anything but less pedaling. The race started at an all out sprint and from there it never let up. The top three girls made it through their first lap within a mere millisecond or so of each other giving them a forty second lead over the pack. From that point it was a flat out contest to see who could push the hardest and dig the deepest. All three managed to maintain a hold on their positions over race one but in the end it was Gwendalyn Gibson of Ramona HS who took 1st with a one and a half minute lead over Madeline Bemis of Corona Composite. Madeline came in at 2nd followed by Geraldine Guerrero of San Diego Composite who took 3rd. The field was rounded out by Veronica Laughton from Antelope Valley Composite in 4th and Kayla Nelson from Trabuco Hills HS in 5th.
Gwendalyn said “I felt strong right off the start, I knew there was a pinch off in the beginning so I just went for it and was able to take the lead up the climb and make a gap. My favorite part about the course was all the flowy single track! The biggest challenge during the race was just as I was making my way to the last down hill before the Finish a group of 6 or 7 girls was stopped on the hill it cost me some time getting around them and knowing Madeline was probably not far off, the time loss definitely scared me but I was able to get around the group running my bike and Finish strong.”
Bemis offered “Vail Lake is one of my favorite race venues with the punchy climbs and the technical descents. I was happy to take second place again in such a fast category, and was stoked that my younger sister Marjie got second place in the Freshman Girls category! I had a rough start and was in eighth place off the line, so for the remainder of the race I was playing catch-up, and it didn’t help that my chain fell off on one of the bumpy descents of the last lap.”
Jonah Sanchez crosses the finish – Photo credit Murrieta Mesa
JV Boys Division 1
The battle between the top five boys in the JV D1 field was yet again one of the closest races of the day. With only a few seconds lead over his nearest competitors, JV Boys Division 1 leader Jonah Sanchez from Murrieta Mesa HS held onto his Leader Jersey grabbing up another 1st place finish at Vail. He was followed by Justin Hurdle from Newbury Park HS who took 2nd and Turner Conway from Yucaipa HS (2nd at Perris) who came in at 3rd. Cayden Phipps from Newbury Park HS placed 4th and Brian Kennedy from Yucaipa HS rounded out the podium in 5th.
Kevin Vermaerke leader of JV Boys D2 – photo credit Tony Gamberutti
JV Boys Division 2
Winning race number two and holding onto the Leader Jersey in the JV Boys Division 2 field was Kevin Vermaerke from Mission Viejo HS. Andrew Vollmer from El Toro HS came in at 2nd followed by Zack Villars of Victor Valley Composite who finished 3rd after coming in 5th at Perris. Travis Claypool from Murrieta Valley HS also moved up in the standings taking 4th after a 10th place finish at Perris and Andrew Fellows from San Jacinto HS was on the podium in 5th.
When asked about his favorite part of the race Keven said “I loved riding past the crowd and hearing so much encouragement. It’s awesome to hear your name being shouted by people you don’t know.”
Meade Plum (front) and Megan Jastrab jockey for postion during the JV Girls race – photo credit JC Belliard
In a head to head to head race that ended in a photo finish Megan Jastrab from Victor Valley Composite (1st), Meade Plum of Buttermilk Academy (2nd), and Micah Mason from Tehachapi HS (3rd) had one of the most exciting finishes if not races of the day. In similar fashion to Perris the three raced wheel to wheel, the entire race, pushing each others limits while also helping to carry each other to victory. Jastrab, Plum, and Mason all said that they felt strong coming into the race but Jastrab added that she “had a lot of fun with the other girls in [her] field, on and off the race course.” Haley Richards from Murrieta Mesa HS took 4th and Michelle Cabanas from Foothill HS rounded out the podium in 5th.
Sophmore Boys D1 winner on the day Karson Basore – photo credit JC Belliard
Sophomore Boys Division 1
Ramona’s presence was felt yet again on the Sophomore Boys Division 1 podium. After a 4th place finish at Beach to Boulders Karson Basore from Ramona HS managed to take 1st followed by Cody Conde from Temecula Valley HS who took 2nd. The Leader Jersey remained in the hands of Karson’s teammate Seth Levy who came in at 3rd. Brayden Lessler from Ramona HS and Kurtis Epps from Yucaipa HS filled the remaining two spots on the podium placing 4th and 5h.
In the Sophomore Boys Division 2 field Ethan Elisara from Julian Union HS Composite and Brandon Kooiman from Temecula Valley composite went toe to toe. The two broke away from the other top five finishers on their first lap and helped each other carry the pace. Their race culminated in a sprint finish that was won by Ethan who already wears the Leader Jersey. Kooiman took 2nd and was followed by Sam Ferris from Woodcrest Christian HS in 3rd. Thomas Stubbs from Mission Viejo HS moved up from an 11th place finish at the last race to take 4th and Aaron Huang came in at 5th for the second race in a row.
Sophomore Girls winner Stassa Cappos on the descent – Photo by Caron Cappos
On the Sophomore Girls Podium Stassa Cappos from Ramona HS took first maintaining her right to wear the Leader Jersey. On her heels was Keturah Ursua from Tehachapi HS taking second yet again by only a few seconds. Bailey Krall from Redlands Home School took 3rd while Kylie Lennox of Great Oak HS and Kara Thompson from Redlands Home School came in at 4th and 5th.
Stassa said that her biggest challenge “was maintaining first place. During the last quarter of the race [she] knew second place was only seconds behind, so [she] definitely felt the pressure to ride to the best of [her] abilities.”
Freshman Boys D1 winner Chase Niblack powering up Air Force Hill – photo credit Ryan Ferragamo
Freshman Boys Division 1
It’s rare when a tie exists for the Leader Jersey in any field but when it happens in two fields on the same day its next to unheard of. After an intense day of racing Freshman Boys D1 racers Chase Niblack from Yucaipa HS and Seth Hampton from Redlands Home School found themselves in a similar situation to our two top Varsity Boys racers. Niblack took 1st on the day garnering himself the right to wear the Leader Jersey along with Hampton who placed 2nd. Alexander Williams from Yucaipa HS took 3rd. Samuel Weber from Great Oak HS took 4th and Jeremy Mudgett from Newbury Park HS came in at 5th.
Niblack’s victory was important to getting Yucaipa into the the first place spot on the D1 team podium. Head Coach Mike Bagg had it right when, after the last race, he said “Our athletes trained incredibly hard this season. In addition to the rigorous afternoon training, Revolution Fitness, our local fitness club sponsors, provided amazing top-level spin classes once a week. We have incredible athletes, and we are so thankful as coaches to be able to see them all perform an injury-free race. From our newest freshman riders to our most experienced varsity riders, all kids gave it their all. I would like to mention how professional all of our other D1 teams were. The competition at the D1 level is frightening, and the coaches and riders of these teams are so positive and encouraging to each other.”
Freshman Boys D2 winner on the day Nathan Hickey – photo credit Ryan Ferragamo
Freshman Boys Division 2
The freshman Boys Division 2 field was upset by the presence of a new racer who was not in attendance at Lake Perris. Nathan Hickey from Monrovia HS placed 1st on the day followed by Ryan Jastrab from Victory Valley Composite who placed 2nd and held onto the Leader Jersey. Matthew Woodward from San Clememte HS took 3rd follwed by Tristan Cobb from Crescenta Valley HS (2nd at Perris) in 4th. Rounding out the field in 5th was Ben Allen from Hart HS.
The Freshman Girls podium- photo by Elizabeth Nelson
The stars must have aligned because yet again we have a tied up Leader Jersey. Genevieve Plum of Buttermilk Academy took 1st and contested the jersey after a 3rd place finish at Perris. She was followed by Marjie Bemis from Corona Composite who took 2nd and she shares the Leader Jersey with Alyssa Barrick from Yucaipa HS who finished 3rd on the day. Megan Lansing from Woodcrest Christian HS took 4th and Madysen Rails from Tehachapi HS took 5th.
According to Genevieve “The most challenging part of the race was the sprint finish against Margie.”
A Murrieta Mesa middle schooler crosses the line with a cheer – photo by Murrieta Mesa
Two years ago the SoCal League pioneered it’s first middle school program with the intention to “introduce middle school aged riders to the sport of mountain biking focused heavily on skills, fun, fitness, and NICA’s “Spirit of Howdy” with a small taste of the competitive aspects of mountain biking they will find when in high school.” It held two Saturday afternoon races in 2014, three races in 2015 and now this year has bumped it up to four races. In an effort to allow kids to have a less pressured environment there is no team competition and no season overall standings. Instead, each race is treated as its own unique event even though many kids will likely do all four races. Even with this stepped down pressure the enthusiasm evident at the first race was contagious and there were smiling middle school riders (grades 6-8) everywhere you looked on Saturday. In the end 225 middle school riders, up from 173 last season, took to the course in four self selective categories called Experienced Boys, Experienced Girls, Novice Boys, and Novice Girls. Due to rapid growth the Novice Boys category was split into three individual fields, Novice Boys 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. The middle school riders rode two or three laps of a 3.3 mile course giving them just enough fun and excitement to be enthused but leaving the harder training and longer distance to the high school riders. No burnout wanted!
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, SRAM, and Trek Bicycles; major sponsors Kenda Tire, Primal Wear, Bicycling, Clif Bar & Company, Giro, Podiumwear, and Quality Bicycle Parts; sponsors Casino Bicycles, Haro MTB, Husqvarna Motorcycles, Hyper Threads, ICE Sportswear, Jax Bicycle Center, JensonUSA, Camelbak, GU, and Maxxis.