When El Molino mountain bike coach Mike Warren first saw Neva Titus ride, he was terrified.
“She scared the crap out of me the very first time I saw her ride,” he said. “It looked to me like she was out of control, (going) 90 mph. But it’s just the way she is. She can handle it. She’s tough as nails.”
She has slowed down not a whit on her bike.
Titus, a junior and three-year veteran of the Lions’ mountain bike team, has been the squad’s top point getter all season long and a key player in the team’s second-place finish in the state high school mountain bike championship in Petaluma on May 20.
This was a group that scratched and clawed to get points all season but could never break the top two places in NorCal league races.
Warren, who has a racing background of his own, was clearly sold on his racers’ ability, but didn’t quite know where to put his expectations heading into the massive event at Petaluma’s Five Spring Farm. And part of that uncertainty was the structure of the state race.
Riding since January, the Lions headed into a state championship that was organized differently than league competition. The state race is all or nothing. No team comes in with points or places. How you race on the day is how you finish in state.
All season long, El Molino’s Division 2 team had to battle it out against both high school teams with riders all from one school and teams that featured riders from multiple campuses who ride under the umbrella of one “composite” squad.
It’s a formula that is great for riders who don’t have enough classmates to form a team, but it also means that sometimes some of the best riders can band together and form a sort of super team. The Southern California division of the mountain bike league doesn’t pit high school squads against composite squads during the season for that reason, Warren said.
“Those composite teams are basically all-star teams, so it’s not fair,” he said. “Southern Cal has picked up on that.”
The different categories made a difference at the state championship races, but Warren, who had wanted to crack the top three in league standings, tried to temper his expectations.
“So this time we were very laid back. We were not going to believe it until it happens,” he said. “And then when it did, they were so excited.
“Each one of them wanted to hold the trophy. It was really neat.”
In the NorCal League title chase, El Molino finished fourth behind Vacaville, Spartans High School Mountain Bike Composite and San Marin High.
El Molino’s second-place finish in Division 2 at the state races was the top team finish among Redwood Empire squads.
After grinding since January, there was almost disbelief for the Lions at their finish.
“I was completely shocked,” junior Spencer Babcock said. “When I saw it, I thought it was a mistake.”
No mistake. Babcock took 37th in the Division 2 JV boys’ race, while teammate and fellow junior Taj Krieger finished in 27th place.
Titus, racing the JV girls’ race, finished in 13th place. Mael Chevrolet broke the top 10, finishing 10th in the sophomore boys’ race.