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FLAGSTAFF EAGLES MOUNTAIN BIKING

Flagstaff High School wins cycling state championship as sport grows in Arizona

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Flagstaff Mountain Biking

The Flagstaff Mountain Biking team celebrates with the state championship trophy.

The Flagstaff High School mountain biking team took first place in the Arizona Cycling Association state championships on Sunday, Nov. 7, in Fort Huachuca.

It was the first time in Eagles history that the program won the title.

Based on the scores of the top racers in each of the freshman through varsity races, both boys and girls, the Eagles finished with a score of 4,041, just 18 points ahead of Basis Prescott’s 4,023 for second place.

Senior Ellie Thompson scored 516 of those points, finishing eighth overall in the girls varsity race. The moment was tremendous for an Eagles squad that had been knocking at the door for years, but finally opened it in this race.

“Our team hasn’t done that before, and it’s a pretty awesome experience,” Thompson said. “I’ve been on the team for five years now, and it’s kind of been building up to this, I feel like. At the beginning of the year, we were all hopeful because we had a lot of fast riders and the team seemed really good.”

Coach John Urkuski said it took a team effort to win the championship, but was especially proud of the girls in the title race.

“The female riders on our team are extremely strong, and it comes from a strong group of women as coaches. So it’s a combined effort there. We’re about 25 percent female, and I’d say they scored at least 50 percent of our points this season,” he said.

The championship is not only noteworthy for the Eagles, but Flagstaff-area mountain biking as a whole. According to the ACA, the sport is the fastest-growing interscholastic sport in the United States. There were more than 1,400 participants from 79 teams in Arizona this fall.

Not only did the Eagles win, but Northland Preparatory took eighth place, Basis Flagstaff took 10th -- Remi Drogi took first overall in the JV boys division -- and Coconino finished 13th despite low numbers on the team. All of the local squads are part of the ACA’s North Division.

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“How great the Northern Division did is a reflection of the mountain biking community here in Flagstaff. It shows that there is involvement and support from people around here and that it’s growing,” Flagstaff assistant coach Dave Spillman said.

And, results aside, Flagstaff’s coaches are attempting to grow the sport even more. A local team winning a state championship, Urkuski said, will be a factor. However, the biggest aspect is spreading the word that mountain biking is a high school sport, and getting kids involved at a young age.

“You’ve got to keep it fun. It can’t all just be about racing. If you look at the state’s cycling association, it’s a big emphasis about being involved with something that’s bigger than all of us. You can be experienced or have no experience at all, and come be part of something that can be really rewarding,” he said.

Assistant coach Maurie Thompson added that newcomers who can’t afford a mountain bike can earn scholarships to get one. Doing so eases the high cost of entry for the sport.

Such programs, she said, make it easier for people to get started. The beginners showed significant improvement this season.

“This year we probably had three or four beginners, and we have coaches for all levels that can help with the skills and help even the new kids get faster and faster,” Maurie Thompson said.

The cycling teams around the state, and especially in Flagstaff, are tight-knit. Most of the riders participate together in the offseason, or are friends from youth programs in the past.

There is still a lot of competition, though. The coveted state championship is the goal, and the Eagles can claim bragging rights until next season.

“I like the competitiveness about it, and also it’s just a great way to get outside. We know a lot of the riders we’re going against, too, so it’s great and we all support each other even though we’re trying to win,” said Eagles junior Mackenzie Spillman.

For more information or to get involved, visit arizonacycling.org.

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