It's the end of March, and the 2012 National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) racing program is going on in four leagues across the USA: NorCal, SoCal, Texas and Washington. It's mountain biking, which means that weather sometimes dictates the play. But they're mountain bikers so they are dealing with it. Here are the March stories from each league.
If the darkest hour comes before the dawn, for Vance McMurry, the founding chair of the Texas High School Mountain Bike League, the sun is now up. In early March, the first-ever high school mountain bike team race in Texas had to be postponed after double the March monthly average precipitation fell in just 24 hours on Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas, shortly before the March 11 event. With four inches of rain and temperatures in the 40s, "It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make after spending two years to get to that point," said McMurry. However, the health and safety of student athletes, and the preservation of trail systems took priority.
Incredibly, a similar story played out two weeks later at Rowlett Creek Preserve, Garland, Texas, when five inches of rain on March 23 and a further two inches forecast for March 24 necessitated the urgent search just four days before the race for a venue that wasn't flooded. "We decided on Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville," said McMurry.
Thus the historic first high school mountain bike team race in Texas took place at the Rocky Hill Rampage. "It was an incredible success, with 57 student athletes from all over the state of Texas," McMurry told Cyclingnews.
Nadina Junozovic of the Westlake Composite Team was the first student athlete in the Texas League to complete a lap. "When she rode under the finish banner on her first lap, she had mud on her face and a huge smile, and everyone was cheering for her! That was a great moment for the league," said McMurry.
The positive response to the event was more than McMurry had dared to hope for. "Ramon Avina, Team Director for the Laredo Composite Team, said that the Rocky Hill Roundup was run like a World Cup mountain bike race. Scot Pemberton, Team Director for the Lake Travis HS Team, told me that in 27 years of bike racing, this was the best race he has ever seen. Many parents of independent riders left Rocky Hill Ranch saying they were going home to start a team to bring to the next races. After the trials of the March deluge I am very grateful to everybody for sticking with us. I feel like this is the start of something big," he said.
Remaining Texas League races
April 15: Cameron Park, Waco
April 29: Bluff Creek Ranch, Warda
An increase in the number of girls was very evident at the season opener of the Washington League, the Furious Fort Classic, at Nordland, March 25. With 23 girls out of almost 100 riders contesting the first round this year, the figure had more than doubled over 2011's opener.
Not only was it a weekend of heroic effort by high school student athletes, but more than that, racers, families, local residents and government agencies came together in a genuine community event.
Washington State Parks provided Fort Flagler State Park, an outstanding venue, the County Sheriff’s Department served as course marshals, and the two local emergency response teams were in attendance. In addition the local cycling club, the Killer Whales, rolled out the red carpet by providing a community spaghetti dinner, movie night (complete with vats of popcorn), and race day breakfast for all attendees.
Washington League executive director, Lisa Miller, said, "It was just great seeing ear to ear smiles across the faces of new riders! Almost half these student athletes were new to cycling, and they were nervous at the start and they lacked experienced of pacing themselves, so those smiles at the finish were priceless!"
Remaining Washington League races
April 15: Washougal MX Challenge
April 29: Fort Steilacoom Invitational
May 20: State Championships
With two events completed of the six-race series, the 2012 NorCal season is taking shape. A rainy March has provided an additional layer to the bucket of challenges mountain bikers face when the start gun goes off, but with ever increasing organization among the teams and unstoppable motivation among the 589 registered riders, a little rain has done nothing to dampen the spirits.
Vanessa Hauswald, executive director of the NorCal League, said, "This season we've been excited to watch all of our teams step up their level of organization and athlete support. We're seeing lots more kids on trainers warming up before their races, parents in the feed zone with team spreadsheets to organize their feeds and coaches effectively managing a spectrum of riders from beginners to junior professionals. Of course, the increased camaraderie between riders and teams is also great to see."
The best point so far for Hauswald came at the first round, the Granite Bay Challenge, "I was about to start the sophomore boys' race. There were a few girls still finishing their race, so we held the start and all the 80+ boys field cheered as these few gritty girls came in, determined to cross the finish line. It was such a powerful and positive moment for all of us."
Remaining NorCal League races
April 1: Laguna Seca Grand Prix, Monterey
April 15: Boggs Mountain Classic, Cobb
May 6: NorCal Championships, Marin
May 20:State Championships, Los Olivos
The SoCal league, now in its fourth season, has seen 315 student athletes compete so far this year. The League hit an early season high point in reaching an agreement with the California Department of Parks and Recreation to hold an event at Wildwood Canyon State Park, its first ever mountain bike race in a California State Park. SoCal League executive director Matt Gunnell said, "The park and racing were beautiful, and we showed that we are a top notch organization with a top notch membership!"
"For the first time, almost across the board, the bar has been raised. While we have more riders, approximately 100 new riders so far, the most noticeable change has been in the level of competition and sophistication of the teams. The great news is that this is not happening at the cost of losing the soul of the League! We have better camaraderie amongst the riders and coaches than ever before and everyone knows that while the racing is top notch, the program is so much more than just racing."
Like the NorCal League, there are six races for student-athletes in the SoCal League.
Remaining SoCal League races
April 15: Victory at Vail
May 6: Power the Pinnacles
May 20: State Championships