Equestrian brings experience in fifth year of competition

Travis Kriens

Travis Kriens

The 2009-2010 South Dakota State Equestrian team will have a good mix of youth and experience.

“Having a larger group of veterans return each year after facing competition at the National Finals brings another dimension of experience to our team,” said fifth year head coach Megan McGee.

Two riders on the Hunter Seat side, juniors Ashley Marrin and Molly Ryan, return. Marrin won the Intermediate Equitation on the Flat Championship at the IHSA Zone Finals to qualify for the National Finals at Murfreesboro, Tenn., where she placed fourth in her division.

Ryan won the intermediate equitation over fences competition at the IHSA Regional Finals in late February, then was Reserve Champion in the same division at the Zone Finals and added an eighth place finish in a very competitive division at the National Finals.

Senior Melissa Zajac was awarded the Reserve Champion title at the Zone Finals in the Open Equitation on the Flat competition. Zajac then placed 11th in the same division at the IHSA National Finals and will return to compete in both IHSA and varsity format competitions for her final year of eligibility.

“Student athletes who have faced the excitement and added pressure of competing under a national spotlight will share their experience with younger team members and give our program the added boost of confidence to bring an even larger squad to that same level of national competition for next season.”

McGee expects to see senior Kristen Carlson, from Westminster, Co., complete her final year of eligibility as a ultra competitive Western rider. Kristen qualified for Regional Finals in both Western and English events in 2009, just missing the cut in both divisions for the Zone Championship.

“Kristen brings a quiet dedication to the team that serves as such a great model for younger team members to follow,” said McGee.


Megan Schiferl, a sophomore from Fordyce, Neb., had a busy freshman season, competing in both English and Western events. She finished the season well with her inaugural performance in varsity competition as a fences rider. Schiferl will see the Championship arena this season, as she stands to qualify early this fall for both her English events in the IHSA Novice divisions.

McGee says that Schiferl is “a go-getter” and will stay busy on campus as well, serving as an at-large member of the Students’ Association.

Student athlete Angie Noyes, a sophomore from Sioux Falls will be another English rider to qualify early in the season from her IHSA division.

“The breadth of experience these riders had before becoming team members can be quite varied, with experience from their own horses, their local 4-H groups, and showing on the open circuit,” McGee said. “It’s gratifying to see their success in collegiate competitions, based on their effort, adaptability and sometimes sheer determination.”


The Jackrabbit Western team competed at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships in Waco, Texas for the second year in a row. SDSU competed at this event where the Jacks lost to South Carolina in the first round. Angela Gebhart, Abby Knobbe, Helen Lauth and Lydia Placzek were the reining team, with Jordanne Blair, Ashlie Centa, Kaylee Mundwiler and Placzek making up the horsemanship side. Centa was the lone Jackrabbit to win match and Mundwiler’s match ended in a tie at 141.5.

Mundwiler is one of four senior Western riders on the team along with Kristen Carlson Jessica Carr and Trisha Smeenk.

“Kaylee Mundwiler has competed for us in the Varsity events since her freshman year and has always been a very good performer for us,” said associate head coach Joe Humphrey. “She had some illness issues her sophomore year that kept her from seeing a lot of action but came back very strong last year, finishing 5-3 with an MVP Award in varsity events.”

Humphrey sees the potential for the other three senior Western riders to share their knowledge and lead the Western side.

“Trisha Smeenk barely missed qualifying for the post season again in IHSA competition, so she should accomplish that early on this fall,” said Humphrey. “Jessica had to sit out most of last season with an injury, but along with Kristen, who is competing solely in Western events, bring quite a bit of experience to the Western side.”

Juniors Lydia Placzek, Angie Gebhart and sophomore Helen Lauth all return with a lot of experience and success on the reining side while Maggie Holzworth and Britta Barta will be competitive in horsemanship for the Jacks. Newcomers Kelsey Champagne and Jana Basler will add a lot of depth to that division as well.

Seven Western riders qualified for the post season regionals last season.

The Jacks return two riders that competed at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Western Semifinals last season.

Barta had an eighth place finish in Novice Horsemanship, while senior Tory Ruppert from Currie, Minn., placed sixth in the same event. The Western Semi-Finals at the University of Findlay had more than 110 riders representing 26 different schools in the event.

Ruppert had a first place finish in novice horsemanship at Minnesota-Crookston to qualify for regionals on Feb. 8. She also won in novice horsemanship at the IHSA regional in River Falls, Wis. to advance to the IHSA Western Semifinals on Feb. 28.

“Tory will be very busy this year as a Pharmacy College student, but she manages her time extremely well and we expect to see her back in the Championship lineup this season,” McGee said.

With the SDSU equestrian program heading into its fifth year, the riders are continuing to gain experience and grow along with being competitive in competition.

“Each year, our recruiting classes grow in strength and experience with regard to the caliber of competition they have seen prior to coming into college competitions,” McGee said. “We are very fortunate that our program has gained the attention of such strong recruits and I am so pleased that these student athletes have decided to become Jackrabbits.

“The experience they bring to the team will benefit our entire program for many years and I feel confident that our veterans are prepared to lead the way while these recruits have the opportunity to develop into nationally competitive student-athletes at the Division I level,” said McGee.

Equestrian is unlike most sports at SDSU in that there is nothing like it offered at the high school level for riders and McGee sees that as a chance for the riders to challenge themselves.

“Many top Equestrian athletes rarely have the opportunity to participate in varsity sports programs in high school, so adapting to the collegiate varsity environment takes a bit of time, but these riders are more than up to the challenge. These groups of young women are great additions to our program and to SDSU.”