Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

XCP mountain bikers want to be tough on trails

Xavier Prep mountain biking club coach Rich Perrott was encouraged by his young riders’ improvement over their five-race grind in 2017.

Perrott now says that he “is cautiously optimistic’’ that his competitors will spend more time on the awards podium in the new season that begins on Sunday (Sept. 9) at Fort Tuthill Park in Flagstaff. Start time is 9 a.m.

The other four races are Sept. 23 at Pioneer Park in Prescott, Oct. 7 at the Wren Arena in Fort Huachuca, Oct. 21 at the McDowell Mountain Park near Fountain Hills, and Nov. 4 at the White Tank Park in the far west Valley community of Waddell.

Xavier currently has seven riders in its combined team with Brophy Prep, which has 33 riders.

Xavier’s top riders are juniors Heather Kwapiszeski and Erin Hill. Hailey Schwartz rode for Xavier as a junior-high student last year and now as a freshman appears to be one of the state’s fast-rising stars – "a terrific talent,’’ according to Perrott. And Xavier also has added a well-rounded athlete to the mix. Senior Aly Largay also is a diver on the Gators’ swim and dive team that is competing this fall.

Xavier competes in the JV 1 category – the varsity group is invitation only and made up of the elite riders. Perrott said Kwapiszeski and Hill might be included in that before the end of the season.

“All of our riders have already put in a tremendous amount of work,’’ Perrott said.

The coach said a year ago that the sport in Arizona was heading toward the 1,000 mark in participants, and his prediction appears to have been correct with an estimated number about 1,100 this year.

There are quite a few different aspects of a race and the equipment that the riders must monitor.

Kwapiszeski said she has more control of her bike.

“Especially on the downhill part of the course,’’ she said. “You want to go fast, but not too fast.’’

Controlling the bike on climbs also is essential, she added.

“If you can do those things, it can give you more confidence,’’ she said.

Having some knowledge of geology can be useful, when looking at the courses and seeing what types of rocks are involved. Some are lighter (gravel type) and can give way easier, and others are harder.

“Sometimes you can get a better idea of watching the person in front of you,’’ Kwapiszeski said.

She has ridden the Flagstaff course before, and said there even are a few trees to contend with along the way.

Perrott said the altitude is a challenge, and could be an ally to the teams from the Flagstaff area, but when the schedule shifts to the desert terrain of a course such as McDowell Mountain, “we might have a chance to get back at them.’’

Xavier and Brophy train at Dreamy Draw Park, just east of the 51 freeway and Northern Avenue, near Piestewa Peak.

Hill is eager to see what she and her teammates can do.

“I think we are really serious this year,’’ she said. “We think we have a chance to do really well.’’

It helps if the riders can train some on their own through the entire year.

“During the season, we’re all out there encouraging each other. We become sort of like a family,’’ Hill said.

A family that is ready to face the ups and downs of racing together.

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