Equestrians prepare for nationals, show strong in new affiliation

Latifa Madesko, Campus Carrier staff writer

Juniors Autumn Lance and Joyce Evelyn Beall practice Western riding at the Gunby Equine Center. The Vikings’ Equestrian team
will compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) national championship after missing out on the
opportunity by a few points in 2022. Mia Maxwell | Campus Carrier

With anticipation building for the end of the season, the Vikings’ equestrian team continues to train for the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) national competition taking place next month in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Berry College equestrian program became a member of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) in Fall 2022, also gaining acceptance as an affiliate member of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). 

Since then, despite encountering several difficulties, the Vikings have proven their abilities with several successful meets, placements and even receiving national recognition.

According to the Berry College Office of Sports Information, participation in the NCEA is equivalent to other Vikings’ varsity sports competing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), while the ECAC parallels Berry’s membership in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference.

Both the Hunt Seat and Western teams had a solid start to the competition season, albeit with less preparation coming into the first meet of the year. 

Highlights of the 2022-2023 season so far include the Western team’s qualification for the IHSA national championship and the debut of the NCEA Hunt Seat team. 

The Hunt Seat team was eagerly anticipating their first NCEA competition, as it was a new competition setting for the Vikings.

Karis Bachman, senior, led the team in Hunt Seat competitions. Bachman was named the most outstanding player in two of the events that the Vikings attended, while also having the highest flat section score. 

After outscoring her opponents 86-78, freshman Kursman was named ECAC Rider of the Week for the week of March 6, the Vikings’ first conference award of the season so far.

“It took a lot of work throughout the school year to get to that point,” Kursman said. “It [Rider of the Week] set the bar high for me. I’m prepared to work even harder and work on being consistent.”

Bachman and Kursman, along with senior Keely Gray and junior Marcelene Leverett, enjoyed outstanding rides and proved to other NCEA teams that Berry Equestrian is a serious competitor.

On the Western side, captain Rette Solomon led her team to second- and third-place finishes in the IHSA semifinals in Starkville, Mississippi, at the end of last month. Solomon, a senior, also qualified individually at the competition, which she called the most anticipated meet of the season.

“After competing at semifinals last year and missing qualifying for the national championship by three points, we came back this year ready to take care of unfinished business,” Solomon said.

A strong team atmosphere seemed to build with each meet, as team members continued to encourage one another, according to Head Coach Margaret Ellington. 

All riders also increased their level of competitiveness throughout the season, helping to maintain their confidence level as they head into the remainder of the season. Ellington said this encouraging and confident atmosphere is what has and will continue to strengthen the Vikings.

“Maintaining the spirit of motivation is the key to developing for the national competition,” Ellington said.

Group effort has also been vital for overcoming the obstacles thrown at the Vikings, according to Solomon, along with flexibility.

“It’s great to see how underclassmen step into the roles that the graduated seniors had filled the previous season,” Solomon said. 

Solomon also said that having a roster with primarily underclassman has not thrown the Vikings off their game, but rather increased their success this season.

“Despite the team having a large number of newcomers this year, the team bonded together so well, and I feel this factor has been a major part of our success,” Solomon said.

Overall, Ellington said that each member of the 19-rider roster has significantly impacted the season’s outcomes. 

“Every single rider at one point in the season was a key rider,” Ellington said.

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