Described as one of the most difficult courses of the year, the Keyesville mountains “gave it” but the Tehachapi mountain bike team gave it back and returned home with six medals, 10 top-10 finishers and dozens of front-of-the-pack leaders.

Due to a forecast of “heavy rain and an atmospheric river,” SoCal Dirt canceled its first race in 10 years and moved it to April 7 and 8 in Keyesville, Calif. Keyesville is two miles west of Lake Isabella at a 2,848 foot elevation, and sits just above the Kern River. Granite boulders cut through the green hillsides as the Kern river flows through its rugged valleys. Its race course runs through the mountains and moves into a small valley at the foothills. Hundreds crowd in the valley to camp and seek an opportunity to cheer their racers as they weave in and out of the venue and return back into the mountains.

On Saturday the forecast of 70 percent rain fell. While spectators crowed under tents and umbrellas, the Tehachapi team pressed on doing their pre-ride through the weather. The middle school races started at 2 p.m. and streaks of sun broke through the clouds as the riders lined up in position.

Tehachapi’s middle school showed a dramatic improvement as they moved up in positions from their first race. Jett Hensler moved up 16 positions, finishing in 22nd place. Greyson Scheffer moved up 12 positions, finishing in 19th place. John Chesebrough moved up 14 positions, finishing in 28th place and Elijah Smith moved up 12 positions, finishing in 38th place. In the girls division, Grace Garrett finished 18th, moving up eight spots and Solai Smith finished 20th, moving up four spots.

Our second year boys 7th grade competitors also made a leap, with Conner Smith placing in top 10. After a season of strict doctor's orders, bike problems and asthma clouding his success, Smith had nothing holding him back in Keyesville and finished 7th, moving up 27 spots. Smith said, “I know I can do better, I’m going to train more.” We look forward to seeing him stand on the podium. Nolan Wood also moved up 11 spots, finishing 21st, and Amanda Edwards moved up three spots, finishing 9th in the girls division.

Freshman Josiah Hopkins is an inspiration for the climbing athlete. Barely able to finish practice in his first season, he continued to push hard and improve. By his second year he finished 44th out of 90 riders. Hopkins is now competing in his third season. After his second race his fourth place podium was celebrated, but he trained harder and rode harder bringing him up to a head-to-head battle for first place at Keyesville. As they passed the crowd, Hopkins carried the lead. The two riders continued to battle it out as they faded back into the mountains. The crowd rushed to the finish line to see who would emerge first. In the end Hopkins moved up two places, finishing in second. During his interview by the announcer, Hopkins ended by saying, “Next week, it’s first!”

Racing in the same division are Tehachapi’s new freshmen Jack Sather, who finished 29th, and Zach Daffern, who finished 22. Both are first-year riders and are showing great potential.

The boys sophomore division dominated the top 10. Austin Garret finished 9th and Ethan Tenderholt 7th. Lou Smith earned his first medal this year by moving up six spots and placing 4th. Alex Gohr not only got his first top 10, he also earned his first spot on the podium, finishing in 3rd. After asking what he did to improve his place, he said, “having my own bike to ride and hydrating.”

Tehachapi has three girls competing in the Sophomore division. All placed top 10. Maghen Saltzman finished in 8th. Gracie Knowlton had a crash, but continued to hold a spot on the podium at 5th place. Sophia Schaeffer continues to grow stronger as she stood one step higher on the podium with a 2nd place medal around her neck!

JV rider Evan Tenderholt suffered a flat on the course, causing him to finish at 31st. Tenderholt was disappointed, but in the past races he has consistently finished at the top of the pack. With his success he has already earned enough points to compete in the state championships alongside California’s top riders.

JV rider Caleb Owens is another consistent top finisher. At Keyesville he clearly worked hard to hold his position, but the exhaustion overcame him, moving him to 15th place.

Faith Hopkins is our only girl in the JV division. Hopkins has been racing for three years and always finishes towards the top. This week she rode in at 13th place.

Last but certainly not least is Madysen Rails. The one-time state champion was moved from JV to compete in the Varsity level. On her first race of this season she finished 7th, the second race in Vail Lake she stood back on the podium in 5th place. Keyesville is the third race out of five and Rails stood at the top in first place. Rails said, “This course is exactly what I train for. A lot of uphill intervals, and on the downhill that is what I’m best at, the downhill.”

The mountain bike season is slowly coming to an end, but the training and experience these kids have had will last a lifetime.

There are 74 teams and more than 550 riders in the SoCal Cycling league. The Tehachapi Warriors mountain bike team is one to be proud of as they build a reputation of hard work, good sportsmanship and top competitors. Their head coaches are committed to the team and lead with examples of integrity.

If you’d ever like to see the team in action, the SoCal finals will be held May 5 and 6 on our very own Lehigh trails in Tehachapi. Middle school competes Saturday, starting at 2 p.m., and high school starts at 9 a.m. Sunday.

April Wood is a parent with the team.