By Zach Wright, Director + Head Coach of Team Touchstone
Bouldering Championship Season
For Californians, winter is unequivocally the good climbing season. Bishop and Yosemite are crisp and sticky (when the boulders aren’t buried under snow) and our collective stoke can be summed up in a single word: temps. That is to say, with winter comes an increased psych to get out and get after it, chasing hard sends and enjoying the prime conditions with our friends.
The USAC National Championship is the most prestigious climbing competition hosted on US soil
Competitive youth climbers share this psych, but for a reason in addition to going outside and crushing: championship bouldering season. From December to February, youth climbers in the USA Climbing competition circuit compete in a series of championship events which culminate in the Youth National Championship at the end of the season. In terms of purely domestic competitions, the USAC National Championship is the most prestigious climbing competition hosted on US soil, and the youth component features the strongest, most talented young climbers from around the country.
Team Touchstone was proud to send four of our climbers from Northern California to Nationals this season, each of whom secured a place at the competition by qualifying at the local, regional, and divisional levels of competition. The climbers included Analise van Hoang from Berkeley Ironworks; Cate Harty from Sacramento Pipeworks; Leila Deschepper from Berkeley Ironworks/Dogpatch Boulders; and Noémie Nguyen from Berkeley Ironworks.
We were proud to send Analise van Hoang, Cate Harty, Leila Deschepper, and Noémie Nguyen to Nationals
The first day of Nationals is Qualifiers, which consists of 50+ climbers in each age/gender category running through a series of four boulder problems. Scores are based on a climber’s cumulative scores across all four boulders, with the top 20 highest-scoring climbers moving onto the Semi-Finals.
Two of our climbers, Cate and Leila, climbed hard in Qualifiers but were unable to post scores that would advance them to Semi-Finals (they finished 35th and 28th respectively). Analise and Noémie, who competed in the female 10 & Under category, were able to advance after an impressive showing on their boulder problems, taking 1st and 4th place respectively.
Semi-Finals played out very similarly to Qualifiers, with Analise flashing all of her boulder problems and Noémie topping two out of three problems to advance both of them to Finals in 1st and 10th place respectively.
The most dramatic moment from this round consisted of Noémie narrowly missing a third top on her final boulder, which she had spent the majority of her allotted four minutes trying to figure out. When she was finally able to unlock the beta, she found herself eyeing the finish hold with a mere ten seconds remaining on the clock. Noémie threw for the last hold and latched it, but was unable to match it before time expired, which meant she wouldn’t get credit for topping the boulder. This was enough to drop her from a comfortable position near the top of her category to 10th place, allowing her to barely squeak into finals in second-to-last place.
When Finals day rolled around, we knew to expect much harder problems for the female 10 & Under category. Semi-Finals saw the top eight girls finish every boulder with the top four flashing every problem, meaning the round was far too easy. Coming out to the competition floor, we were not disappointed.
When Finals day rolled around, we knew to expect much harder problems…we were not disappointed.
The routesetters had crafted an elite set of boulders, featuring a technical slab with horrendous footholds and difficult, balance-intensive moves; a mixed boulder featuring an athletic dyno which led to tenuous off-balance climbing; and a thuggy compression problem which climbed straight out of one of the steepest walls at the competition.
Analise and Noémie each had an incredible round of climbing for different reasons. Noémie came out second and casually hiked her first boulder problem, setting the expectation that everyone else would do it as well. As we found out, this was not the case—only two other girls finished the technical slab.
Noémie then moved onto the second problem and promptly got shut down on the dyno for a solid three minutes. However, she continued problem-solving and was able to unlock beta that allowed her to stick the unlikely dyno, making her one of only four girls in the round to do the move. On her last climb, Noémie got shut down by a tricky beginning sequence and was unable to control the first scored hold, meaning she received a score of zero on the climb. The most impressive thing about her performance? Even with a zero on her scorecard, she was able to earn herself a spot on the podium in third place, which goes to show how well she performed on problems one and two.
Noémie was able to unlock beta that allowed her to stick the unlikely dyno, making her one of only four girls in the round to do the move.
Analise came out to climb last, one of the perks (or stressors, depending on your perspective) of qualifying for Finals in first place. She struggled with her first climb, having a hard time using the poor feet and navigating the tricky balance moves. She ended up making it only halfway up the climb, which didn’t bode well for the remainder of the round.
After a few failed attempts on the second problem, Analise was able to stick the dyno and climb to the penultimate hold, which only one other girl had reached. This put her back in contention for first place, with everything coming down to the last climb. Analise would need to outperform every other competitor on the third problem to secure a victory, and she would only have a few attempts to do it.
In the end, she only needed one attempt. Analise pulled on and proceeded to climb the problem to the highpoint of the round, securing a first place finish on her first go of her last climb.
Team Touchstone had our first two climbers to ever podium at a National Championship, our first two climbers to qualify for the US National Team, and our first National Champion.
When all of the dust settled, Team Touchstone had our first two climbers to ever podium at a National Championship, our first two climbers to qualify for the US National Team, and our first National Champion. This was a proud moment not just for the two kids standing on the podium, but for our whole team. This showed all of our climbers, coaches, and parents what is possible and what we can achieve as a team.
On to the Next…
Now, as is typical with climbing, we’re done celebrating and we’re on to the next challenge. Ropes season just started and it’s time to get after it. And coming off a season like this, you can bet that everyone is fired up.