Lee Bird knew progress is vital to a young sports program, including the St. Francis High mountain bike team that entered its fourth year this season.
The Golden Knights Coach wanted to repeat last year's success and have one rider qualify for the National Interscholastic Cycling Assn. High School Mountain Bike State Championships.
Turns out, Bird set his sights low, as two senior varsity riders — Matt Misetich and Christian Breitschwerdt — qualified for the final race of the year, which was held on the Chamberlin Ranch in Los Olivos on May 20.
"This year was definitely a breakout year," said Bird of the entire program, including freshman, sophomore and junior varsity levels. "The first three years we did well but not great, we were always mid pack, but this year every race we had a guy at the podium at the end of the day and that's big. … Just based on podium finishes this year we had more than the first three years combined."
Conditions weren't ideal for Misetich, Breitschwerdt or the more than 500 high school students who competed from across the state with the temperature hitting the high 90s, forcing officials to shorten distances for some of the races.
Misetich and Breitschwerdt finished 44th and 50th with times of 1 hour 23 minutes 1 second and 1:29:46, respectively, in Division I. The performances earned the Golden Knights 16th place out of 22 teams in Division I with 2,590 points.
Sir Francis Drake High took first place with 3,811 points.
A total of 16 other Golden Knights competed at the freshman, sophomore and junior varsity levels.
"More than half of the members on the team had their best race at the state championships, so that means we peaked at the right time," Bird said.
Sean Bird, Bird's son, provided the best finish on the day for St. Francis when he finished fourth in the JV Division I race in 50:16 after taking third overall in the SoCal League.
Scott Marshall (14th, 53:46), Matt Kubly (23rd, 55:58), Cameron Aubert (33rd, 58:10), Connor Haas (36th, 59:05) and Steven Ayoob (50th, 1:04:12) also competed in the JV Division I 62-rider race.
Austin Hamilton, who took sixth in the SoCal League's freshman class, capped an impressive inaugural campaign with a time of 53:49 for fifth in the Division I freshman leg.
Skyler Payne, who finished seventh in league, also took eighth in 54:55 out of 56 in the race for St. Francis, which also had Remi Roth (21st, 59:51), Philip Saulny (22nd, 59:52), Nick Bedford (26th, 1:01:56) and Nathaniel Blakely (39th, 1:06:44) competing.
"Our freshman riders really improved this year and I know that they will be a force next year in the sophomore and JV Classes," Lee Bird stated.
Daniel Balsam, who took third in the SoCal League's sophomore division, led the St. Francis sophomores again at State when finished 18th in the Division I sophomore competition in 1:27:42. Hunter Nalley (45th, 1:38:37), Will Towne (55th) and Keenan Koch (58th) also finished for the Golden Knights.