Teagan Mason didn’t consider herself much of an athlete. She wasn’t outgoing either.
The Shakopee sophomore underwent a transformation a year ago. Mason was persuaded by a couple of friends and a teacher to become a member of the school’s mountain bike racing team.
“I was very nervous,” Mason said. “It was a bit scary for me.”
She quickly overcame her fears and now is one of more than 1,000 competitors from nearly 100 schools who participate in the Minnesota High School Cycling League. The league will get its sixth season underway in August.
“This has completely exceeded any of our wildest dreams,” said Josh Kleve, the league’s director and co-founder. “It has really been embraced.”
Kleve had 100 coaches for 151 student-athletes in the inaugural season in 2012. There are now 400 coaches in the program sanctioned by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
There are six races — Austin, Duluth, Mankato, River Falls (Wis.), Rochester and St. Cloud — that comprise the season schedule. The state championship is in late October.
“The courses get progressively harder as the season goes on,” Shakopee assistant coach Kyle Sobota said.
He and head coach John Oman formed the Sabers’ squad three year ago.
Each racecourse is roughly 4 miles in length, while the number of laps varies on your level (varsity, junior varsity, sophomore or freshmen). There are also two Divisions (I and II) — determined by team size. Races are held on Sundays, with pre-rides on Saturdays.
“We try to make the races special,” Kleve said. “The production value exceeds many pro level races. For many of our student-athletes, this is the first time they will hear their name read over a loud speaker. It has a festival atmosphere.”
It also has a marathon-like feel at the start. At the sound of an air horn, the entire pack of bikers equipped with helmets is on its way around the obstacle course.
Like all new riders, Mason had plenty to learn. Her biggest challenge coming out of the starting gate was climbing hills.
“It’s tough to get in the right gear, and get enough momentum to get up the hills,” Mason said. “Going over and through obstacles was also hard.”
She still remembers falling off a platform onto the packed dirt below during her initial run on the advanced loop at Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage. It mostly bruised her ego.
“I suffered a couple of bruises and scratches,” Mason aid. “I overreacted to the situation more than anything else.”
Nothing prevented Mason from completing every course during her initial season while competing at the girls’ freshmen level.
“She was a beginner, and had a lot to learn about being out on the trails,” Sobota said. “She improves greatly, and it gave her a lot of confidence. Finishing every race last year was a testament to her character.”
Champlin Park junior captain Brady Higgins is looking forward to making the transition from the boys’ sophomore level to varsity.
“It should be a good transition,” Higgins said. “You have to learn how to pace yourself. There is more of a strategical aspect.”
Higgins is coming off a fifth-place finish in the sophomore class of Division II at the state championship a year ago. Champlin Park is entering its second season as a program by itself (not combined with Osseo-Maple Grove like previously).
“It’s an everyone-included atmosphere,” Higgins said. “It’s a good league because you can have fun with it whether you are a beginner or more experienced.”
Prior Lake sophomore Calvin Sandberg is one of the most experienced cyclists in the league. He has been mountain biking over 10 years, and competed on the varsity level for the first time last season.
“Moving up to varsity made me learn how to ride fast,” Sandberg said. “I had to ride fast to stay up with the other competitors. The better competition pushed me to get better.”
He enjoyed his best season, finishing as the runner-up with a time 1 hour, 23 minutes and 29.9 seconds in the state championship. He won the Austin event and was second in two other races as well.
“I did a lot better than I thought I would do,” Sandberg said. “I surprised myself.”
He also uses mountain biking to train for his other activity, lacrosse.
“It’s great for cross training,” Sandberg said. “It’s super for your leg muscles, and not hard on your body.”
There is one exception — immediately following a race.
“After a race I’m super exhausted,” Sandberg said. “All my muscles are tired, but I’m also happy because it was a lot of fun.”
Which is one of the primary goals of the league, along with getting more people involved in cycling. Over 50 percent of the student-athletes have gotten at least one parent riding a bike.
“It’s really a fun sport,” Sandberg said. “You can go anywhere and do anything on a bike. There are endless opportunities.”