Around a year ago, UT Martin head coach Meghan Cunningham Corvin and her team were in a tough spot. Not sure if they would even be able to have a team for the 2016-17 year, the Skyhawks were not able to recruit.
In May of 2016, the team received word that they would be able to compete during the upcoming season. It was great news for the equestrian program, but it also meant that Corvin and her staff had to rope together a signing class in a short amount of time. The Skyhawks reached out to other coaches and individuals to find riders that had not yet committed to another NCEA University.
Two of the athletes that fell into UT Martin's lap were Bobbie Piddock and Randi LaChance.
"We got them here quickly on a visit, and both committed through the summer to attend here in the fall," Corvin said. "It was a quick move, and luckily they were willing to change their initial plans to attend UT Martin."
Lucky indeed. Not only was the freshman duo able to jump into the fold on short notice, but they have become two of the Skyhawks' best riders. LaChance has racked up eight wins and three MOPs in Hunt Seat while in Western, Piddock has seven wins and three more MOPs.
Not only has LaChance and Piddock racked up overall wins, but they've beaten some quality competition along the way. LaChance has wins over Texas A&M and Auburn while Piddock has defeated riders from Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia. Two of her MOPs have come against Georgia and Auburn.
Those stellar stats would be impressive for anyone, regardless of year, but it's even more incredible that both riders are just freshmen. Because the NCEA format is much different than the youth and junior circuits, it's always difficult to tell if an athlete's potential will translate to college.
"We kind of knew they both had potential just from their junior and youth careers," Corvin said. "But certainly those first few weeks of practice, we knew both of them were capable of having an impact on our team."
The key to making an impact that early is being versatile and having a great work ethic. Piddock and LaChance check both of those boxes.
For her efforts, LaChance was named the United Equestrian Conference equitation on the flat Freshman of the Year. She also earned a spot on the All-Conference team for flat. That kind of recognition is pivotal for a UT Martin program that's trying to prove it belongs.
"It's critical," Corvin said. "That recognition for our program is great moving forward. It lets people know that, 'We're still here, we're stabilized and we're doing well.'"
LaChance and Piddock make a huge impact throughout the lineup, which can be hard to do for a young rider. While it's common to have a rider compete in both events in Western and Hunt Seat, it takes a certain amount of mental fortitude.
"At times it's good because they're getting multiple experiences," Corvin said of the versatility of her two star freshmen. "On the other hand, they need to be able to refocus and regroup and move on to the next event. Their mental and physical preparedness counts even more for our team."
Because of the uncertainty with the program until May of last year, Corvin said that the Skyhawks lost about two and a half years of recruitment. However, they hit the nail on the head twice with the addition of LaChance and Piddock. There are six other talented freshmen on the roster, and a huge signing class of 17 riders will be enrolling next season.
It's certainly a young Skyhawks team, but they were able to show this year that they could be a dangerous team in the future with all of the young talent.
"We've had great performances throughout the semester," Corvin said.