Summit Tigers mountain bike team embraces family feel to race to third at Durango state championship
FRISCO — There was a moment during Saturday and Sunday’s Colorado High School Cycling League state championship event when the essence of the Summit Tigers high school mountain bike program was on full display to sophomore Victoria Uglyar.
After Uglyar finished in fourth place during Saturday’s JV girls race, she and her Tigers teammates watched as the varsity girls raced the 6.5-mile, 664-foot elevation gain course Sunday. On their third and final lap, 2019 Summit High grad Jazlyn Smith cheered on her younger sister Tai-Lee to a seventh-place finish.
Tai-Lee Smith’s showing in the 44-cyclist race earned the Tigers their most points on the weekend (523). Beyond that, the finish also spoke to something else. To young, talented riders like Uglyar and her fellow Summit sophomores Sam Hessel and Marin Ward, the older Smith sister’s attendance at states echoed the family feel of the Tigers.
This weekend in Durango, there were only two teams better than Summit: Boulder (7,351 points) and Fairview (6,807). But those two teams had 81 and 48 cyclists race for their respective team’s top-15 results. Summit and its 6,067 points, on the other hand, had only 18 mountain bikers hit the Durango trails Saturday and Sunday. In terms of scoring points, that leaves much less room for error for each individual as all but three cyclists had their individual points count toward the team’s total.
It’s that tight-knit element that Uglyar, Hessel and so many other Tigers love about Summit. Uglyar said she looked up to the likes of the Smith sisters and others while growing up riding in the local Summit Mountain Challenge summer bike race series. Now to be a team member of those older girls who inspired her — and to see Jazlyn return for such a big event — meant a lot to Uglyar.
“In the long run, we are going to be together,” Uglyar said. “We are all a family. That’s who we are: one big family. We are speedy together.”
So many of these Tigers have been “speedy together” since the start of their mountain biking careers as pre-teens or younger. Many of them grew their friendships summer to summer through the Summit Mountain Challenge before joining together as Tigers at the high school level.
On a weekend like this past one in Durango, all of those years of riding together and competing against one another shone through for the Tiger family. Of the 16 teams that competed at the Division 1 level, Summit’s team of 18 tied for seventh-smallest. Despite that fact, and despite scoring fewer team points than hoped during Saturday’s freshman and JV races, Summit rallied Sunday for a third-place finish that will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in program history.
“This team is comprised of such awesome individuals that, as coaches, we kept watching the results roll in, and we kept getting more psyched,” Summit coach Jaime Brede said. “I have to say, I have been coaching this team close to four years now, and it’s one of the most proud I’ve ever been. Everybody who came contributed to the win. The Summit Tigers, that’s our jam: We are small but mighty.”
It all started Saturday for Summit. Uglyar and Hessel earned the team 512 and 420 points with their fourth-place and 18th-place finishes, respectively, in the two-wave, two-lap, 88-rider JV girls race. Uglyar rode to a time of one hour, two minutes and 49.71 seconds on a classic cross-country course that featured strong winds to ride into when double-track opened up into wider spaces.
In the 145-cyclist, three-lap, JV boys race Saturday, Tiger senior Caleb White put an exclamation point on his high school career. White earned the Tigers a crucial 474 points with his time of 1:24:53.16.
That trio of Saturday scores set up Summit for a strong Sunday, when many of the team’s top cyclists competed in the varsity and sophomore divisions. That said, even when a rider like Ward crossed the finish line in first place to win the sophomore girls race and season series, the Tigers’ focus was on one athlete at a time, one race at a time. Ward earned the team 500 points by winning the two-lap, 71-cyclist sophomore girls race in 01:07:36.70 to kick Sunday off. Brede credited Ward’s hard work and increased confidence for her special season.
“I kind of hung back in the first lap and didn’t go as hard as maybe some other girls might have,” Ward said. “In the second lap, I really turned it on and put it all out there and was able to pass a few people.”
Sept. 8: Third at Showdown In the Boat in Steamboat Springs
Sept. 22: Third at Granby Ranch Roundup
Oct. 5: Third at Conference championship, Haymaker Classic, Eagle
Oct. 19 and 20: Third at State championship, Durango Mesa Pursuit
Summit then surged to third place with the varsity boys and girls races. After not having a single varsity boys cyclist at last season’s states, where the Tigers finished fourth, Summit had three riders finish in the top four of the varsity boys race. Lasse Konecny capped his strong season as the fastest sophomore in the state, finishing in 10th at 1:46:19.25. Behind him, Summit seniors Max Bonenberger and Finn Remias finished in 24th and 34th places, respectively, with times of 1:53:01.83 and 1:55:82.25.
In the varsity girls race, Tai-Lee Smith raced to seventh and was joined by senior Opal Koning (17th place, 1:37:46.89) in the top 20.
Her high school career coming to a close, Koning put into perspective just what the Tigers mean to her.
“It was very bittersweet,” Koning said, “becausue you make friends throughout the past four years, you look forward to race weekends and seeing friends and connections, and it’s hard to let those go.”
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