A page was turned in the third chapter of the St. Francis High mountain bike team's existence last year as it sent an individual to the state championships for the first time.
The Golden Knights are looking to continue progressing in their fourth season in 2012. It'll be the first year St. Francis Coach Lee Bird will have had riders under his wing for four straight years.
"I think what's happened is we've really built a program," Bird said. "What we did four years ago was focusing on getting kids on bikes and teaching them the skills to go out and ride for an hour. Right now we are focused on getting the kids able to go out and compete."
The Golden Knights are part of the SoCal League, which was founded in 2008. They competed at a high level last year when they sent Eddy Kronfli to compete in the 2011 California High School Mountain Bike State Championships at the varsity level and 12 other riders to the junior varsity, sophomore and freshman levels.
The 2012 season begins for the Golden Knights on Feb. 26 at the Vail Lake Challenge in Temecula. There are five SoCal League races this year with the final one being Lake Arrowhead's Power the Pinnacles race on May 6. The 2012 California High School Mountain Bike State Championships will be held in Los Olivos on May 20.
Kronfli graduated last year, but the Golden Knights have seniors Cameron Aubert, Steven Ayoob, Christian Breitschwerdt, Connor Haas and Matt Misetich returning to give them plenty of experience to make another run.
"Our seniors have been great role models and leaders on our team," said Bird, who will be assisted by Patrick Donovan this year. "Many have raced since they were freshmen and really understand the dedication and hard work necessary in the sport."
Aubert, Misetich, Breitschwerdt all competed in the state championship last year at the JV level. Misetich finished 18 out of 48, Breitschwerdt checked in at 29th and Aubert and Haas were back-to-back at 39 and 40, respectively.
This year, St. Francis' goal is to have more than one rider qualify for the varsity state championship race.
"I am not sure they will be able to podium, but our goal is to race at a high level in varsity and that will be a big step for our program," Bird said.
The program is taking another step in 2012. This will be the first year Bird has freshmen joining the program with experience already under their belt, allowing them to progress at a quicker rate.
"As a coach it's not about podiums, I want our team to be competitive and year after year we've done that," Bird said. "I want them to have fun and enjoy the sport but it's more fun when you're competitive."
Mountain biking, which is not CIF-sanctioned sport, has not only given students at St. Francis who don't play football, basketball, soccer or baseball a sport to participate in, but it's drawn students to the school.
"One of the things that's really awesome for me is hearing students say the reason why they wanted to come [to St. Francis] is because of our mountain biking," Bird said.
Bird said the Golden Knights' mountain bike program wouldn't be competitive or even exist without the support they receive each year from the St. Francis administration, assistant coaches and volunteer parents.
"This is an out-of-the-box sport and the school is 100% behind us," Bird said. "It's a team effort."