‘Kokopelli Kids’ take to the trails
Palisade sophomore in line for state mountain bike title
Marta Morris is a fast learner on the bike.
The Palisade High School sophomore has been racing road bikes since she was 10 and is now finding success on the mountain bike.
In only her second year riding and racing on the dirt, Morris is in contention for an individual title in the Colorado High School Cycling League championship. She currently sits in second place and will compete in the final race of the season Sunday in Eagle.
The fact there’s a competitive high school mountain biking team is news to most.
The Grand Valley Composite team is in its third year and has had between 10 and 15 riders competing this season. Most of the riders compete at the junior varsity, sophomore or freshman levels. Morris is the lone varsity competitor for the team.
James Quackenbush, a local doctor, is one of the volunteer coaches for the team. He said starting a competitive mountain biking team and offering kids another competitive outlet just made sense.
“We really wanted to get kids mountain biking,” he said. “This is a sport that they can do their whole lives.
“Not only are we trying to teach them to ride better and to ride safely, but it gives them the chance to compete.”
Competing at the Division 2 level, the Grand Valley team finished fourth overall in 2012. There are two divisions in the league championship series, but the individual varsity title and rankings are combined. The overall team rankings are divided.
Quackenbush said the team has grown consistently and only had about eight riders last year.
He said with a sport like mountain biking, it’s vital to consider the safety factor when dealing with young riders. At most races, the varsity competitors and JV boys will ride a more technical and longer race. It gives the younger riders the opportunity to improve their skills and prepare for the more intense racing of the varsity level.
“We want to get them out there, so they can start riding safe with the right techniques,” Quackenbush said. “Once they get better, then they can push their limits.”
The physical development and endurance capabilities of young riders is another factor, he said.
Morris may only be a sophomore and a relative novice in the sport, but she is an “exceptional” cyclist,” Quackenbush said.
“She’s been racing on the road for years, and now she’s becoming better and better on the mountain bike,” he said.
Switching from the pavement to the dirt has been fairly seamless for Morris.
“I feel like road racing is more competitive,” she said before Wednesday’s practice at the Lunch Loop trail system. “It feels more like a race, and mountain biking is more relaxing, and you can enjoy it a little more.”
During the season, she has placed first, fifth and fourth in races. Last year, she finished the season fifth overall.
As a newbie to the sport, Morris, who turns 16 next week, has picked it up quickly, but she said it’s been a challenge.
“Figuring out how to ride different styles, how to pace yourself has been the main thing,” she said. “There’s so many more variables in mountain biking.”
Jonah Howe has had an impressive couple of months on the mountain bike and on the trails.
The 17-year-old Grand Junction junior is hoping to ride to an overall individual JV title.
On Aug. 31, Howe won the 30-mile race in the Grand Junction Off-Road. During the four-race high school season, Howe has finished first, third and first going into the final race. But it’s that third place that serves as his motivation for the final race.
“I went out and won the first race, and that was really cool, and I was on top of the world,” Howe said. “Then I came back in the second race and didn’t have a great showing.”
His third-place finish cost him the leader’s jersey, but he got it back in the third race.
The Grand Valley team, which is nicknamed “The Kokopelli Kids,” is made up of riders from five high schools — Grand Junction, Palisade, Fruita Monument, Caprock Academy and Life Academy.
Quackenbush said the team is entirely self-funded, but he hopes to find sponsors in the future to help with travel costs.
The three previous races took place in Granby, Leadville and Elbert.
In April, the town of Eagle decided to allocate $60,000 to build the course to host the high school championship. The multi-use trail will be open to the public year-round.