WACO, Texas- The Texas A&M equestrian team’s hunter seat half grabbed the spotlight and ran with it on the second of three days of competition at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships at the Heart O’ Texas Fair Complex on Saturday.
The hunter seat, or English, group qualified for its first-ever national championship final with an impressive defeat of three-time national champion Georgia, 6-2. The Aggies were consistent in their success, earning 3-1 wins over the Bulldogs in both flat and fences.
“This whole year has been wonderful,” A&M hunter seat coach Linzy Woolf said. “This has been one fabulous ride to this point. It’s been so much fun to see this team come together. We’ve had some really, really high times and a few lows but I think all the experiences we’ve had this year have taught us a lot and helped us use that to do what we’ve been able to do here at nationals. We are not only physically prepared, but mentally prepared to put in the best runs we are capable of tomorrow.”
The win marks the second of the season for the Aggies over Georgia as well as hunter coach Linzy Woolf’s first ever in championship competition over her collegiate mentor Meghan Boenig, who coached A&M’s English riders from 1999-2001.
“To do something like this is very satisfying, but in my mind anything is possible if you work hard enough,” Woolf said. “Meghan has done great things with the Georgia program and for the collegiate sport as a whole. To be able to go toe-to-toe with a team like theirs that is a national championship contender every year and have the kind of success we did makes today’s experience very special.”
Junior Erin Ivy (Cypress) used her fifth fences win of the season to clinch victory over the Bulldogs and a spot in the championship match for the Aggies. Ivy out-pointed Georgia senior Kelly Bonau, 161-147, to give the A&M hunter seat squad its first palpable chance at a team championship in the program’s nine year history.
Sophomore Lindsay Smith (West Friendship, Md.) turned in her second dominant fences run in as many days to set the final team score at 6-2. Smith out-pointed Georgia star sophomore Haylie Jayne, 166-165, in the highest scoring match in any discipline of the entire week.
Senior co-captain Katie Henion (Austin) got the ball rolling over fences for A&M with a 153-149 win over Bulldog freshman Kitt Ritter. Henion’s and Smith’s victories give them each 11 for the season, ranking them as the most prolific riders on the hunter seat team.
On the flat, sophomore Brittney Dodson (Amarillo) edged past Haylie Jayne of Georgia, 155-154, to give the Aggies a 3-1 advantage heading into fences.
Junior Christina Matz (McKinney), riding for the first time this week, made the most of her opportunity by cranking out a 150-142 flat win over Kelly Bonau.
Senior co-captain Ashlie Soderstrom (Lake Oswego, Ore.) earned her first flat win of the week by beating Georgia sophomore Daisy Whalen, 135-123.
The hunter seat team qualified for the semifinals for the first time ever by handling Kansas State, 5-2, in the quarterfinal round. The Aggies carried a 3-1 lead into Friday morning over the Wildcats after a very successful fence run as a group on Thursday night. The flat crew took the lead and ran with it, beating KSU 2-1. The win avenged a 6-2 beating by the Wildcats three weeks ago at the Central Championships in Manhattan, Kan.
A pair of sophomores put the Aggies over the top with flat wins. Brittney Dodson posted her ninth victory of the season with a team high score in a 155-139 win over KSU’s senior Whitney Snyder. Christina Heine (Toledo, Ohio) won her second straight competition with a 149-134 triumph over Wildcat Leslie Yates. Senior Lindsey Lawrence (College Station) earned a 149-149 tie with KSU’s Jenny Giraldin as well.
The Aggie western riders were not as fortunate as the hunter riders in taking a 3-1 quarterfinal lead into Friday against Kansas State. The Wildcats beat A&M 3-1 in reining, locking the match up at 4 wins apiece. However, Kansas State’s reiners not only grabbed A&M’s momentum, but also their advantage in the tiebreaker, giving them the overall win by the smallest margin possible, 1,013.5 to 1,013, and ending A&M’s chance to repeat as national champions.
Following the loss, the Aggies dropped into the consolation bracket to face No. 9 Baylor. A&M used its disappointment as motivation to end the Bears’ chance at a second upset in as many days by a 4-2 margin.
Sophomore Caroline Gunn (Greensburg, Ind.) won her 10th straight horsemanship match by throwing up the highest score of the week in a 151.5-143 win over Baylor sophomore Lindsey Tomko.
Freshman Randi Standley (Madisonville) also came up big for the Aggies by winning both her horsemanship and reining competitions against Baylor. Standley earned a 140-138 win over Bear sophomore Madelyn Mooney while turning in an impressive horsemanship run in a 148.5-137.5 win over Lindsay Douglas. Standley also earned A&M’s only reining win over Kansas State, a 139-129 win over Alecia Zimbelman.
Sophomore Maddi Williams (Valley View) earned a 146-145.5 win over Bear sophomore Valtie Riddle to get the Aggies’ in the win column first for the western team in their battle with Baylor.
The third round wins by both the hunter seat and western teams kept A&M’s slim hopes of winning the overall national title alive. For the Aggies to earn a share of the title, A&M must win the hunter seat national championship while the western squad must defeat South Carolina in the fifth-place match coupled with Georgia losses in the western championship final and the hunter seat third place match on Saturday. Regardless of tomorrow’s events, the Aggies will finish no lower than third in the overall standings.
The second-seeded Aggies will take on No. 5 seed Auburn for the hunter seat title while the fourth-seeded western squad will face No. 6 seed South Carolina in the fifth place match. TCU will try to go for an undefeated season in the western championship final against Georgia in a match-up of the top two seeds in the tournament. Caroline Gunn will also try to win the first-ever individual national championship in horsemanship as the No. 2 seed on Saturday as well.
The third and final day of action at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships will begin at 8:30 a.m.
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