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South Salt Lake Journal

Cottoncrest team creates fun memories, rides; yet expected to be competitive this season

Sep 09, 2021 11:30AM ● By Julie Slama

Cottoncrest girls mountain bikers Rachel Arlen and Georgia Barrus, pictured here, and other team members helped clean, repair and prepare bikes at FB4K—Free Bikes 4 Kids to give to kids in need. (Anthony Stowe/Cottoncrest mountainbike team)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Cottoncrest mountain biking team senior Georgia Barrus isn’t the star of the team or even the next best, she says.

“I’m always in the last, and I’ll literally come through the finish line, and everyone (will be) screaming for me,” she said. “It’s the best ever. No one really cares (where) you’re racing; we’re just proud of each other—no matter what. It’s awesome.”

In fact, Barrus, whose brother is four years older and raced with the team, remembers times when “I couldn’t make the cut-off line (after) two laps in 45 minutes. For me, that was a struggle to get through some races and I’d be so devastated. When I actually made the two laps (in the time limit), I would let off like the biggest scream of happiness and it’s made people cry. I know Tony (her coach) was telling me, he’d be bawling with my mom on the sideline, and I’ve even made other people cry that I don’t even know.”

Her coach, Anthony Stowe, said what’s fun about Barrus, who rides JV B, is “she always finishes with just the biggest smile, the most positive attitude; she just likes the celebration of the group ride and race day. I’ve spent more time crying with her mom, watching her ride, just because it means so much to her. She loves it.”

The Cottonwood captain is one of three, along with Hillcrest seniors Matt Hinks and Connor McMillan, representing high school student-athletes from Cottonwood, Hillcrest and AMES on the team.

“With these three, it’s a team culture. They’re the athletes; they’re fun to be around. They are the team. Just a week ago, Matt was having some mechanical stuff with his bike. He was able to ride, but he wasn’t able to ride really fast, so he dropped back with group three of five I had. He just chatted with them, and you could see the pace of the kids just skyrocket. They were excited to be riding with one of the varsity kids and he shared some techniques,” he said, adding that McMillan often helps his teammates with their bikes’ mechanical issues.

For Barrus, it’s about team bonding and helping her teammates be successful, at whatever their level.

“I love doing stuff for the team. Every year, I would just make the team bracelets (with embroidery floss or string threaded through part of the bike chain) and I like talking to everyone, getting everyone involved; it’s something I’ve always loved to do, with or without the team captain (title). It’s so cool to see how (my friends) have grown and how I’ve grown—even one year ago when I wasn’t as confident on the bike. Then, I have my friends that cheer me on, and I just feel so confident,” she said, adding that part of the joy of riding comes from enjoying the scenery whether it’s Park City or Lake Tahoe or even riding across the Golden Gate Bridge, which “was a little scary and windy.”

Recently, the team got caught in a rainstorm and after getting off the mountain, they got to the parking lot and started splashing in puddles.

“We’re all covered in mud and we’re all wet. It was so much fun,” she said. “It’s one of those things about mountain biking. It doesn’t feel like a sport you’re dreading; you’re excited to go to it.”

This year, the girls’ team has helped Free Bikes to Kids repair donated bikes for kids and took part in some field games as part of GRIT—Girls Riding Together. Barrus also wanted new riders to feel comfortable with racing, so she helped plan a pre-race competition within their own team and had parents cheer them on.

However, the team also was focused on its first race, scheduled for Aug. 21 at Soldier Hollow. They also are scheduled to race Sept. 4 at Snowbasin, Sept. 18 in Vernal and Oct. 2 at Eagle Mountain. State championships are Oct. 22-23 in St. George. 

As of press deadlines, fans—“about 10,000,” according to Stowe—may be able to attend races whereas last year, they were unable to because of COVID-19 safety and health guidelines. 

Utah has more than 6,300 registered middle and high school mountain bike racers; Cottoncrest has a team of 37 racing in the east region that registered 1,450 student-athletes.

Cottoncrest team members started practicing in April and continued three times per week throughout the summer, with Saturdays being a longer three-to-four-hour endurance ride. Although not required, Stowe continues to recommend his team follow using hand sanitizer and has masks available so his team can stay healthy to compete.

Stowe is looking to Cottonwood/AMES senior Rachel Arlen to be a strong contender in the JV A division as well as his daughter, Hillcrest sophomore Kenna Stowe, who competed and took third in a USA cycling race this past summer in Temecula, California. Sophomore Hiley Campbell should race well in JV B and Anna Hinks will “probably be my fastest freshmen girl this year,” he said before the first race. 

The boys’ team is led by Matt Hinks and McMillan. They are the first varsity-level athletes that Stowe has coached.

“I’ve known Rachel and Hiley since they were fourth-graders. Georgia Barrus has been riding with me for years and I have a couple of boys who have been riding with me a long time, Matt and Connor. I love everyone on the team, and they have become part of my family,” he said about his team. 

He also expects good rides from Ziek VanDijk and AJ Call, who are “extremely fast and competitive freshmen,” and sophomore Braxton Little as an “up and comer” in JV A with “his eyes set on varsity.” He said that sophomore Kolby Butler has “really made a big jump, massive improvement” to ride JV A. Cottonwood/AMES junior Jacob Arlen, who was on the podium in a couple races last year “is definitely one to watch.”

With the depth and talent of the team, it may be possible the team could reach the podium at state, which “would be really cool to share with them. I think that would be an awesome memory for them.”

However, while Stowe doesn’t usually make predictions about the season, he does make one: “If we’re out having fun, and they were coming off with a smile, even if they were coming off with tears and learning lessons about goal setting, learning how to accept failure and building upon that, I know I’m building a stronger athlete and a good contributor to society and we’re sending someone off that is going to be a strong adult.”