April 17, 2011
Auburn University claims national championship; Texas A&M is western champ.
By Larri Jo Starkey
Auburn University claimed the overall national title April 16 at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships. The Alabama school picked up the English championship en route to the finish, winning 6-2 over the University of Georgia.
They key to success, head coach Greg Williams says, is unity.
“These girls put the whole team in front of themselves,” he said. “It’s something we talk about, and this group does it. It’s easy to talk it, but to actually do it is where it gets tough.”
The western riders’ efforts were influential, he said.
“In the regular season, they were doing it, picking up a win and battling,” he said. “They fed right into the hunt seat girls and pushed them to achieve like never seen in college. I think they lost three points the entire week.”
During the awards ceremony, a united team gathered to dump its water bucket on Greg’s head, a surprise and perhaps a new tradition for Varsity Equestrian.
“These baths are the best baths a coach can ever have,” he said. “I’ll take them all the time.”
In the western bracket, Texas A&M University claimed its third title in a row, beating Kansas State University in an emotional duel.
“We’ve been No. 1 in the coaches poll overall since November and so you bet we’ve had a target on our back all year,” said A&M’s horsemanship coach, Beth Bass. “But it was nice to have the respect of the coaches through the coaches poll to keep us No. 1. Our one loss (in the regular season) was to Kansas State, so kudos to them. They have a very young team and they’re stepping up their game and we’re going to have to step up ours.”
Throughout the regular season, head coach Tana McKay stressed riding every step.
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“It’s easy to get to the top and hard to stay there,” she said. “I think that’s one thing these girls don’t ever take for granted. They work hard every day knowing it could be taken away at any moment. When you’re showing horses, you’ve got to work for every little ounce, and these girls did. It doesn’t get old – winning a national championship is always phenomenal. There’s nothing like it.”
Kansas State University coach Casie Lisabeth, was proud of her young team, which rose from the No. 7 seed to the championship round, upsetting No. 2 seed Oklahoma State University in the second round.
“We learned from every mistake we made and we got better each time and we peaked at the right point of the season,” she said. “They got knocked down but they never quit working. I’m just proud of them. They’re going to be better next year and better the year after that. For all but one of them, it’s their first year showing here. They’ve got a lot of time left.”
All of the coaches stressed that Varsity Equestrian competition is becoming more tough each year.
“I think all the competitiveness of Varsity Equestrian is reaching new levels,” Beth said. “And so it will remain even tougher to stay on top, but we’re excited about how the sport is growing and the level of riders it’s attracting.”
Three of this year’s Most Valuable Player awards went to riders from Auburn University, including the reining MVP for former AQHYA competitor Paige Monfore. In all her years showing at the Built Ford Tough AQHYA World Championship Show, Paige never made the reining finals. The Auburn senior was nearly speechless.
“This is the first national award I’ve ever received,” she said later, clutching her plaque. “I don’t have the words. I’m so very honored.”
The horsemanship MVP award went to Marissa Dalton, whose Oklahoma State team wasn’t on the floor for the awards ceremony. Marissa, also a former AQHYA competitor, was called from the stands, pulled into her coach’s arms for a hug and then pushed out into the arena to accept her award from AQHA President Peter Cofrancesco III.
To see more photos from the Varsity Equestrian National Championships, watch the slide show below. Click on each photo to read the caption.
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