TULLAHOMA, Tennessee – Marshall County’s mountain bike racing team is off to a winning start – again.
The Marshals, who dominated the four-race series last year en route to Tennessee state championship team and individual titles, were winners Sunday in five categories in the first of four races on this year’s schedule .
Marshall County’s newest interscholastic sports program could hardly have gotten off to a better start.
Following up on last year’s championships, the Marshall team dominated Sunday’s racing on a course at the Arnold Engineering Development Center.
Carson Beckett and Jessica Tillson swept varsity boys and girls honors, while Justice Beal won in JV boys and Jackson Beal and Audrey Grizzard were freshman boys and girls winners.
That was the first race of a four-race schedule that will make up the 2014 Tennessee High School Cycling League season.
Other races are in September, October and November.
“I think our group’s really excited,” said Steve Beckett, who coaches the team along with Shane Darnall.
The team has lost several riders from last year, but has picked up five new freshmen, Beckett said.
“As a coach, you really don’t know what the new ones coming in are. But I knew whoever came back would be in better shape and [have] better skills.”
This year’s season is starting about a month ahead of last year’s schedule.
“It is stretched out over four months this time instead of three, so you’ll have at least three to four weeks in between races, which gives the kids plenty of time to work on their fitness and other things,” Beckett said.
Going into Sunday’s first race, Beckett said of the team, “They’re a step ahead of the group last year. It’s going to be really exciting.”
n Beckett, a junior and son of the coach, has received an invitation to compete in Norway as part of the USA World Championship junior team.
Last month, he raced in Europe in a USA Cycling developmental program.
“He’s kind of a mentor on this team,” his father said. “He can talk to the kids at their level and stuff that I can’t and Shane doesn’t know. And I encourage that. I would rather him talk to them, because he can connect with them much better.
“After all, it’s riding a bike, and it’s supposed to be fun and you’re doing it for your health and to learn something and be part of a team.”
The younger players should recognize the level of Beckett’s ability, and also appreciate how he has made progress as a rider, Beckett said.
“They should realize the level that he’s riding on, and it was done right here in Kentucky,” Beckett said. “Most of the top riders come from Colorado, Utah, Texas, all the big western states.”
Carson Beckett’s development, the coach said, proves that a rider can develop world-competitive skills in Kentucky as well.
The Marshall County team has been developed with the support of outdoor recreation retailer Wood ‘n Wave in Grand Rivers.
“We have a great support of ride leaders, which are basically volunteers,” Beckett said. “There are probably nine, total, that help support this team.”
The volunteers have undergone background checks and had required training to qualify them to work as volunteer assistants with high school athletes.
“A lot of them are Wood ‘n Wave riders,” Beckett said.