Western-style riders hope to defend national title

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    As the equestrian team prepares for a game against Sacred Heart University at their home field in Mansfield on Feb. 7, the women riding Western style are focused on defending the national title while the hunt seat style riders aim at making a name for themselves in the national competition.

    Head coach Gary Reynolds said he feels confident in the ability of his riders.

    “I expect continued success with the Western team,” Reynolds said. “We’ll bring our hunt seat team up to compete at a national level. I expect Final Four for both teams.”

    Though the Western team graduated two riders last semester, veteran senior riders like team captain Carrie von Uhlit help to bolster the team with strong leadership for the younger riders.

    “I think we have a lot of talented younger girls,” von Uhlit said. “The team will just get stronger.”

    Kelsey Huffman, a sophomore who rides Western, said the team faces fierce competition against teams such as the University of Georgia and Texas A&M University.

    “It’s going to be a lot more difficult this year,” Huffman said. “Last year we expected nothing. Now that we’ve won we expect to be up there again, and this year a lot of teams will be watching us.”

    The team fared well in its first game of the 2009 season last weekend against Deleware State with a 15-2 win.

    “We want to keep building up until we get to nationals,” Huffman said. “Our ultimate goal is to peak out right when we get to nationals.”

    Reynolds said the main challenges will be maintaining focus throughout a long season and creating a team atmosphere with a group of girls involved in an individual sport.

    A lot of the teams are tough and competitive challenges will come from all directions, von Uhlit said.

    Huffman said a more seasoned hunt seat team will help position the team for national contention.

    “They’ve been working extremely hard this year,” she said. “The English (hunt seat) team last year were basically all new. They’re sophomores now and they know what to do.”