Equestrian Hitting Stride at Midseason Point

Dec. 12, 2013

By Grace Bolin

Jordan-Hare Stadium has seen a lot of success this year. The Gus Malzahn-led football team has put up win-after-win with one of those landmark wins over No. 1 Alabama in one of the most historic Iron Bowls in the rivalry’s history. However, just around the corner, another Auburn team is also bulldozing their competition. The equestrian team took down No. 1s in back-to-back meets, upsetting No. 1 Georgia one week only to knock off No. 1 Baylor one Friday later.

During a September home football game against Mississippi State, the equestrian team took the field to be honored for the 2013 National Title and awarded the coveted championship rings. Well, the Tigers are back on the prowl as they look to vie for yet another championship title this season. Through the first half of the season, the equestrian team has shown no sign of let up.

With a loaded roster, the Tigers prepared for the tough schedule they face this season. Many riders returned from last year’s roster, giving them momentum from the National Championship season.

The Tigers started the season strong posting two wins against Fresno State and UT Martin, scoring 15 points in each victory.

Auburn saw a very uncharacteristic loss in the SEC opener against No. 5 South Carolina. Penalties played a major role in the loss to the Gamecocks, but after a soul-searching week of practice, the Tigers rallied back when they took on the No. 1 Georgia. The Tigers defeated the Bulldogs soundly, 12-8, ending the home stint of their season on a positive note.

“We had a loss here at home that just kind of happened,” said Head Coach Greg Williams on the season so far. “There may have been things that we didn’t execute, but I think maybe I held them back to much. Maybe I should have just turned them loose more because they are a talented group of girls. We have done very well since then. Some losses can really help a team grow.”

Auburn then left its friendly confines for the first time this season for three meets in three days in the state of Texas. A tough three consecutive meet schedule vs. top-10 opponents did not phase the Tigers. The weekend began in dramatic fashion as Auburn upset No. 1 Baylor on the final ride of the meet. That win helped create momentum for the final two meets. The Tigers then traveled to Dallas to compete against SMU successfully winning, 15-3. To conclude the road, Auburn beat No. 9 Texas A&M in a narrow tiebreak victory.

At the end of the fall season, the Tigers are 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. After an incredible sweep on the road in Texas defeating Baylor, SMU and Texas A&M the Auburn Equestrian team will have a break over December before returning to action in late January.

An important factor that has helped this team be so successful thus far is the chemistry of the riders. They have all come together and have truly represented Auburn in great fashion. That is something Coach Williams has always taken pride in and works hard on.

“The biggest thing we always work on is team unity,” said Williams. “This is such a smart, ambitious group. We have recruited plenty of talent and always will. But this is a very individualistic sport prior to college. And then you come to college and it is all about the team. These girls are riding more for each other and for Auburn than for themselves.

“There are a lot of girls that you see taking charge, and there are a lot of big motivators and pushers,” said Williams. “But what a lot of people don’t see are the quiet ones in the background, who just keep pushing to win. One of those is Stephanie Rucci. When she walks in the horsemanship arena you can just feel it. When you see Katsy Leeman going to the arena, you know there is about to be a big push. Demi has come in as a transfer so this is really our first experience with her, and she is knocking it out of the park in both events.”

But the season is not over yet. Auburn still has the second half to go. The Tigers will start spring portion of their season on the road against Delaware State and Oklahoma State on Jan. 31. Auburn then returns home on Feb. 15 to again take on Texas A&M. With a lot of riding yet to come, the Tigers are well on their way to winning being in position for the program’s fourth national championship.

“The one thing I can say is they have not even begun to peak yet and that’s really neat,” said Williams.

Records Falling
Senior hunt seat riders Christina Lin and Jennifer Waxman are on the brink of making some records fall. Lin needs one more win to become the school’s all-time winner in equitation in the flat, while that same number is need for Waxman to break the record for career wins in equitation over fences.
Stars from the Fall
Christina Lin, Sr., Hunt Seat
Lin has posted 11 overall wins in both equitation in the flat and over fences and is a perfect 7-0 in fences. She was named the SEC November Rider of the Month for Fences.
Demi Stiegler, Jr., Hunt Seat
Stiegler, along with Lin, leads the team with 11 overall victories in hunt seat events. She also earned SEC honors as the November Rider of the Month in the Flat. She scored a 96 in the event at Baylor, which is the highest posted score in the discipline this year nationally.
Griffin Knight, So., Western
Knight was a big contributor to the horsemanship roster in 2012-13 as the SEC Freshman of the Year, but has taken on a bigger team role this season. She has been a double rider on both horsemanship and reining and now boasts the best western record this season at 9-2-2 with two Most Outstanding Player awards.