FRESHMEN MAKING MAJOR IMPACT FOR NCEA EQUESTRIAN PROGRAMS


FRESHMEN MAKING MAJOR IMPACT FOR NCEA EQUESTRIAN PROGRAMS
Thursday, December 22, 2016 | by Kyle Heck | CollegiateEquestrian.com

Every year teams have to endure some sort of turnover. Whether it's replacing one, two, three or half of your starters to graduation, or dealing with a student-athlete unexpectedly transferring, there's usually the need every year to incorporate new faces into the lineup, which can be challenging.

However, when a freshman is able to come into the fold and immediately make an impact, it's a sweet bonus for coaches. Several coaches around the country find themselves in that exact position this year.

It's extremely hard for a freshman to come in and step into the starting lineup during their first year, but when they are able to do that, it can make quite the impact on a team.

Meghan Cunningham, head coach for Tennessee-Martin, has two outstanding freshmen, one each in Hunt Seat and Western. Randi LaChance has excelled in both Equitation on the Flat and Equitation Over Fences while Bobbie Piddock has shined in Horsemanship and Reining, which means those two freshmen literally do it all.

"I think the thing for us that's exciting is that they're both freshmen, and they're doing that at the freshmen level," Cunningham said. "In three years when they're seniors, they'll even be that much more outstanding. They're consistent when they go in the arena, so we look forward to that. We look forward to them progressing as well."

The future for programs that have such talented freshmen is obviously bright, but it takes a lot of hard work by those individuals. Not everyone is able to come in and make the adjustments that are needed, but for riders like Sydney Hutchins and Maddy Darst from Georgia, they put in the time and effort to make the transition easier.

Hutchins (seven wins) and Darst (six wins), both of whom participate in flat and fences, rank fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team in total wins.

"I think both of these individuals have come in with such good, open minds and a great, diverse background of riding so many different horses at such a high level," Georgia head coach Meghan Boenig said. "Coming in here with an open mind, and just going to work. Going to work and they have been very successful."

Oklahoma State knows the impact freshmen can have on a program perhaps more than any other program in the country. No fewer than six freshmen have earned wins for the Cowgirls.

However, despite that youth being incorporated into the lineup, Oklahoma State still sports an impressive 4-1, 2-0 Big 12 record at the halfway point of the season.

That freshmen talent will make next year's transition much easier for head coach Larry Sanchez.

"I'm very happy about the future of our program," Sanchez said. "We are graduating some very talented individuals at the end of this year, and it's good to see that the younger ones on the team are ready to step in and fill those shoes that will be vacated."

There's never a guarantee that a freshman will be able to come in and contribute right away.

Most of the time, there's an adjustment period that could last several months or an entire year or more. However, one common theme that seems to be prevalent in the successful freshmen is an ability to be versatile and smart in the classroom.

SMU head coach Carol Gwin said as much about her outstanding freshmen pair, Vivian Yowan and Haley Zimmerman. Both players have at least four wins and a MOP on the year, and have continued to impress Gwin.

"They're both capable of going both ways in the hunt seat side so they can both be put in on the flat (and) they can be put in over fences," Gwin said. "That is wonderful. In addition, they're both really, really strong scholars. They're about to complete their first semester of freshman year, and they're really doing well in school. Their ability to ride a lot of different horses well, that's probably their No. 1 quality. And they're best friends too, it's kind of a fun story. They're like the Bobbsey twins, they go everywhere together."

Gwin and coaches everywhere hope their impact freshmen can help take their respective teams
to the podium in Waco, Texas at the end of the NCEA National Championship in April.

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