COLLEGE STATION -- The Texas A&M equestrian team rode to victory in the championship match at the inaugural Big 12 Classic held at N.W. ‘Dick’ Freeman Arena on Sunday.
The Aggies defeated rival Oklahoma State, 9-6, to take home the championship title. No. 4 seed Baylor upset No. 3 seed Kansas State in impressive fashion, 11-4, to take the bronze medal match.
“The girls did a great job of coming through when it mattered the most today,” A&M head coach Tana Rawson said. “Every time we step into the ring with OSU, we give each other our best shot. We bring out the best in each other and it has made for some high drama over the years. Today was no exception.”
The A&M-OSU competition, as has been the case practically every time the two teams have faced off since both teams went varsity in 1999, proved to be a roller coaster ride with both teams on the edge of their seats at the climactic end. For the third time just this season, the A&M-OSU match-up produced twists, turns and a yet another photo finish.
The Cowgirls jumped out to a 3-1 lead at the conclusion of the equitation over fences competition. Sophomore Erin Ivy (Cypress) pulled out the Aggies lone victory, a 76-74 decision over OSU senior Paige Hortman.
A&M rebounded with a clean sweep in the horsemanship division to regain the lead, 5-3.
Freshman Caroline Gunn (Greensburg, Ind.) and sophomore Tonna Brooks (Newberg, Ore.) led the charge once again. Gunn improved to 10-1-1 on the season with a high-scoring 75-73.5 decision over OSU’s Jordan Pickelman.
Brooks moved to a perfect 10-0 in horsemanship after initially being handed her first defeat of the season. Brooks defeated Cowgirl Ashley Koch 73.5-71.5 after the judge was informed of a major penalty and elected to go back and view the video of Koch’s ride. Koch had initially been given a sky-high score of 77 despite neglecting to drop her stirrups for the final three maneuvers of her run as the test called for.
Senior Sassie Broaddus (El Paso) and sophomore Sibyl Parsons (Combine) both turned in scores of 71.5 in horsemanship to defeat Brandi Thomas (70) and Samantha Davidson (64), respectively.
The pendulum swung back in the direction of the Cowgirls after OSU earned a 3-1 advantage on the flat. Junior Ashlie Soderstrom (Lake Oswego, Ore.) earned her second most valuable rider honor in as many days, and fifth of the season, to help keep the Aggies in the match. Soderstrom recorded an impressive 77-65 win over 2006 regional high point champion Bailey Mahoney of OSU.
With only reining left to be contested, A&M and OSU were deadlocked at six wins apiece. OSU needed to win only two of the final four matches after building up a large raw score advantage (the tiebreaker) in its six English victories. For the Aggies to win, they were faced with the daunting task of winning three of the four remaining matches.
After failing to post a score above 70 a day earlier, the A&M reiners got to work quickly. Tonna Brooks cruised to a 72-68.5 win over Saturday’s reining MVP Rachel Currat of OSU. With the win, Brooks moves to 11-0 on the season in reining and an eye-popping 21-0 in varsity competition this season.
Still needing two more victories, sophomore Amanda Ryan (Ramona, Calif.) delivered a clutch win over one of the better OSU reiners in school history, Katie Bohr, 71.5-70.5.
Needing a win or tie to clutch the match, A&M’s most daunting task was still ahead. OSU freshman Rachell Shobe posted the highest reining score of the entire day (72.5) during her run, leaving Aggie freshman Maddi Williams (Valley View) with quite a tall order. With her teammates in the stands providing an electric atmosphere during the run, Williams delivered with the most clutch ride of her young collegiate career, eclipsing Shobe’s score with a 73.5 to the delight of the large group of A&M faithful in attendance. During post-match calculations, a mathematical error was discovered, dropping Williams’ score to 72.5, however her performance still resulted in a tie which was all the Aggies needed to clinch the match. Williams was awarded the first MVP honor of her collegiate career for her championship-clinching ride.
In the final match of the day, A&M’s most prolific reiner this season, Maggie Gratny (Leavenworth, Kan.), provided the exclamation point to the Aggies’ championship victory. Gratny moved her seasonal record to 10-2 with a 69-66.5 victory over OSU’s Jacque Roberts, giving A&M the 9-6 final margin of victory.
The Aggies will spend the next two-and-a-half weeks preparing for the Varsity Equestrian National Championships. The VENC show will take place April 18-20 at the Heart O’Texas Complex in Waco.