POCATELLO — Athletes from a composite team encompassing four area high schools have claimed the region’s first state championship in a competitive sport that’s relatively new to Idaho.
In their sixth year as a mountain biking team, the Pocatello Pioneers have brought home a lot of hardware to fill a trophy case that will be displayed at Barrie’s Ski & Sports, 624 Yellowstone Ave.
Starting next season, the team also intends to host its first home meet. Pioneers members plan to build a regulation Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League course this fall on the city’s East Bench.
The coed, composite Pioneers team includes athletes from Century, Pocatello, Marsh Valley and Blackfoot high schools. During the season’s final race, hosted Oct. 12 at Bogus Basin Ski Resort in Boise, they emerged as champions in Division II of the league.
Athletes average their top five times of six races. In Division II, the top four athletes’ times are counted, and no more than three of those athletes may be of the same gender.
Highland High School mountain bikers also wear the Pioneers jersey, though due to their large numbers the league forced the school to break apart and be scored as a separate team.
Highland, which competes in Division I, finished fourth in the state. Division I teams are ranked based on the average of eight athletes’ times, and no more than six athletes of the same gender may be counted.
The Pioneers, who aren’t affiliated with any school district, had 91 total registered athletes this season — up from 65 members during the prior year — and about 40 coaches.
“We do have the reputation of being one of the perennial powers,” said Troy Gardner, a Pioneers coach.
Gardner explained Wood River is usually the team to beat, but Pioneers athletes are also well prepared, thanks largely to the availability of a phenomenal local trail system.
Local middle school students also get to race as Pioneers, though their scores don’t officially count.
“Now we’re getting a lot more middle school kids out, so we’re able to work with them for a few years before they hit high school racing,” Gardner said.
Students who don’t like the stress of competition are allowed to participate without having to race. Furthermore, no Pioneers are cut from the team or forced to “sit the bench.”
“It’s all inclusive,” Gardner said. “Everybody that comes gets to ride, and everybody that wants to race, they get to race.”
During the season, The Pioneers practice on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. In 2013, which was the team’s first season, they were affiliated with a Utah league. The following year, they joined with a dozen other teams in forming an Idaho league. That league now includes about two dozen teams from Idaho, as well as Wyoming teams representing Jackson and Pinedale.
One of the stars of the Highland team this season was senior Ryan McMinn, who finished the year fourth in state.
Ryan’s mother, Maja McMinn said her son’s confidence soared after he found his niche in mountain biking. He joined the Pioneers while attending Franklin Middle School. Maja loves the team’s atmosphere — pitting students of different ages from several schools and of both genders together to work toward a common goal.
“For a middle school boy to have a high school girl cheering for him is pretty great,” Maja said.
Maja is also pleased that the community will soon have the opportunity to support the Pioneers during home races.
Gardner said local races will be based at the Bannock County Event Center, where there’s ample parking for a large crowd and out-of-town guests will have camping accommodations available. He’s been working with Satterfield Realty and McNabb Farms to get permission to build a course that crosses their land and connects to Bureau of Land Management ground.
The course would start at the mouth of a ravine, where Chubbuck Road turns to gravel and then reaches a dead end. The route he has in mind would be a 4.2-mile lap, covering just under 900 feet of elevation gain. Gardner said the course would remain open on a trial basis in the initial years and would be open to the public, with the intention of eventually making the trailhead permanent.
The Pioneers are poised to remain a top team throughout the foreseeable future. Victoria Horrocks, of Pocatello High School, should be a star of the composite team next year. She finished third in state in junior varsity scoring this season.
Thomas Krause is an upcoming star for the Highland team. As a sophomore, he placed second overall in Division I varsity this year. Krause’s average time for completing an 18-mile race was roughly 90 minutes.
Krause, who has been mountain biking since he was 7 years old, will head into next season as the state’s top ranked mountain biker.
“I love the atmosphere at the races and all of the kids having a fun time and finishing and being excited about that,” Krause said.
This winter, Krause plans to compete in freestyle skiing and riding “fat bikes,” which have extra-wide tires to roll over snow. He’ll also competing in Mountain Biking Nationals in Winter Park, Colorado, next summer. It’s a competition featuring the top riders from each state.