DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wheels keep on turning for mountain bikers

Interest in the sport of mountain biking continues to climb for potential competitors at Xavier Prep.

The Xavier contingent is in its fourth year of an alliance with all-male Brophy Prep in the Arizona Interscholastic Cycling League.

Participation in the sport at Xavier now has reached double digits (10). Skill levels vary. XCP-BCP coach Rich Perrott said three Gator riders participated in most of last year’s events. Now the team has four event competitors with two or three others on the verge of taking the next step.

Xavier-Brophy competes in Division I (there also is a Division II). Perrott estimates there are about 900 riders from schools across the state.

The maturation process for Xavier riders reached a new level in the first race of the season, on Sunday (Sept. 10) at Fort Tuthill Park in Flagstaff. Xavier will have four more races, on Sept. 24 at Pioneer Park in Prescott, on Oct. 8 at the Wren Arena in Sierra Vista, on Oct. 22 at the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills and on Nov. 5 at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park in the west Valley (Waddell). All races begin at 9 a.m.

“We are beyond happy. We finally got someone up on the podium (top five finishers),’’ Perrott said.

It came in the girls’ sophomore race, and Heather Kwapiszeski nipped teammate Erin Hill at the finish line.

Xavier sophomore Heather Kwapiszeski, far right, earned a spot among the mountain biking elite with a fifth-place finish in last weekend's race in Flagstaff. (Photo courtesy of Rich Perrott).

Perrott, who is assisted by Blake McClelland and Kevin Hill, said both riders are outstanding athletes with a great deal of versatility.

“Erin has played basketball and Heather has been in soccer and cross country,’’ he said.

“Heather was very excited about her accomplishment. She joined us last year as kind of a casual bike rider, but she has turned into a very tenacious racer. The sky is the limit.’’

As a team, Xavier-Brophy finished in eighth place. It was a good place to start. Sierra Vista Buena won by a single point over Prescott High.

The race course at Flagstaff featured a 5.8-mile loop with a 344-foot climb per lap. The older, more experienced riders go as long as four laps while the sophomores and freshmen go two laps. The races go in a counterclockwise direction.

Xavier’s Sam Sandoval finished 15th in the sophomore race and Natalie Fuchs finished 17th in the freshman race.

So it is back to work for the Gators this week. The girls and their Brophy compadres usually have trail rides on Tuesdays and Saturdays (when there is no race on Sunday) and a “spin’’ session on Thursdays.

Perrott said if a student expresses an interest in mountain biking, they can use one of 10 “loaner’’ bikes and helmets to see if they like it, and includes consultation with the parents.

“We have seen a lot of growth and hope to see more,’’ Perrott said. “Sister Lynn and the athletic department at Xavier have been very supportive of us.’’

Xavier Prep Mountain Biking roster

Lulu Castro (Jr.), Natalie Fuchs (Fr.), Charlotte Heffron (So.), Erin Hill (So.), Yacinta Irakoze (Jr.), Heather Kwapiszeski (So.), Sydney Larriva (So.), Isabella Plumb (Jr.), Sam Sandoval (So.), Catherine Wandachowicz (So.).

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