By Brandon HENSLEY
The Crescenta Valley High School cycling team wrapped its finest season to date last month, winning its first ever championship in northern California.
As part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Federation (NICA), CV’s win on the weekend of May 18 and May 19 up state at Stafford Lake Park gave the school its first – but hopefully not its last – state championship to go along with its first Southern California League title. The win came against 51 other teams from state.
“Ecstatic,” said Coach Jim Rowton, when asked about his feelings after the race. “We made history. No team from SoCal had ever won.”
Indeed, this is the fifth year in existence for the SoCal mountain bike league – compared to the 15 for northern California – and Crescenta Valley is the first SoCal team to take home the big prize.
“We weren’t expecting to [win],” said freshman Brenna Pratt. “We just wanted to do the best we could. When they called our name, it felt amazing. Like, the best feeling I’ve ever felt.”
CV won its Division II title with 1,940 points, ahead of the 1,775 points from second-place finisher South Orange County (1,775 points). The third place team was from Redlands, which made the top three teams from state all from Southern California.
Some teams, like South Orange County and Redlands, are composite, which means teams consist of riders from two schools because participation may be low from a specific school.
The number of riders also determines which division schools are put in. Rowton said Division I schools have at least 12 members. Crescenta Valley had 11 members for its 2012-13 season, including Rowton’s sons Lucas and Adam.
CV dominated all year, winning five of its six regular season races. The team took first place at Vail Lake, Lake Perris, Keyesville and Los Olivos before winning at Stafford Lake. It was runner-up in its second race of the season to South Orange County.
“It was really nice because the first couple of years no one was really focused,” Lucas said of his team. “This year everyone had more focus and dedication.”
Pratt became the team’s first ever female winner of a race when she placed first in the third race of the year at Lake Perris.
“I wasn’t going to jump ahead [of the leader] until I knew I could keep the pace,” Pratt said. “That’s what my coaches always tell me; stay on people’s wheels.”
Pratt is one of just three girls on the team, Ellis Cobb and Dee-Anna Lopez being the others. She said after winning her race, she was tired and breathing hard like after every race, but joy took over as the overriding emotion.
“All my family was there, my team [as well],” she said. “I couldn’t have been happier.”
It’s performances like Pratt’s that has helped CV and other SoCal teams be more competitive at the state level.
“We’ve been slowly closing the gap on the NorCal teams,” Rowton said. “We’re five years in now. The competition level is very high.”
While the competition is tough, understanding how the teams win may also be difficult, at least for those not familiar with sports that have point-based scoring systems.
The combined score of the top four finishers of each team is added up at the end of the race. The highest score wins. There are three levels. Varsity points are worth more than junior varsity and freshman points (varsity races are also the longest, coming in at four laps as opposed to three and two for the other levels, respectively).
For instance, varsity riders received 550 points for winning races this season opposed to 525 for JV winners.
The top four must include a member of the opposite sex. So if CV’s top four riders in a race were boys, it must substitute the fourth boy’s time for whatever place was CV’s best girl.
But that doesn’t mean the team members that place outside of the top four don’t matter, because as high as they can finish, “They take points away from other teams that covet those positions,” Rowton explained.
Rowton, a former U.S. Mountain Bike team member, is one of five coaches for Crescenta Valley, and he’s gone through extensive training just like every coach who is a part of the organization. Requirements include training at a leadership summit, learning risk management and CPR.
Some of the coaches are volunteers, and that’s impressive considering each race is miles away from CVHS, as opposed to a basketball or football game where a road game often means driving 10 minutes to Glendale or Pasadena.
The team either camps or stays at a hotel near the race site, and riders try out the course a day before to get a feel for it.
Lucas said high school courses are more safety friendly, making them technically easier. But some tracks have climbs that are at a 40% grade, “which is basically straight up,” he said, so it’s not like the average bike rider on Foothill Boulevard could roll out of bed and do it.
All of the factors for a successful team – traveling, training and diet — equal one tough job for riders and coaches alike.
“It ends up being a pretty intense season,” Rowton said.
Rowton also said interest in the team has increased, so much so that it’s a possibility CV could move up to Division I soon. All he asks from his team is effort and consistency, and the winning and respect part will take care of itself. This year was a perfect example of that.
“Somebody had to break that barrier down, and we’ve finally done it this year,” Rowton said.
“We were super happy,” Lucas said. “To see the turnaround from our team from five years ago, that was really cool.”