Growth spurs promise

Mike Schaefer

Mike Schaefer

Building off last year’s season, the South Dakota State equestrian team seeks to improve in only its second season of competition.

Last year was a difficult beginning for the program. However, for Head Coach Megan McGee, it was a learning experience.

“We learned that we have a group of real solid competitors. Almost all of them were starting collegiate careers. [We] only had two with experience,” she said.

The Jacks’ lack of experience, combined with a difficult schedule, in which the Jacks faced the past two champions, Auburn and South Carolina, easily could have sent the team into a tailspin. Instead, they came out prepared for every event.

“We weren’t slacking off,” McGee said.

She attributes a great deal of the team’s competitive nature to the scheduling.

“I didn’t start with a warm-up schedule. We went up against some of the top teams in the country. They handled that well. We had some very good riders and wins last season,” McGee said.

The team pushed South Carolina to the brink before falling short, but McGee doesn’t seem disappointed.

“I’m extremely happy with the effort they put in, they exceeded expectations,” she said.

Last year, the Jacks took their spills, but kept the old adage true by always getting back on the horse. The experience should pay big dividends for the 2006 campaign. McGee is assured that the team will be ready for the competition.

“They worked hard over the summer preparing for the season,” she said.

With a year under their belt and a growing program, the Jacks are just waiting to explode.

“It was tough being the new kid on the block, but we feel pretty seasoned,” said McGee.

For a young program, the equestrian team is growing rapidly. The team has doubled its roster for this season compared to last year. Even with twice as many riders, McGee is short of her goal of 60 riders, but not due to lack of interest.

“We turned away riders, over a dozen more. We just don’t have enough room for the horses and practices. These were qualified riders and students. It is the hardest part of my job,” said McGee.

To alleviate the space problem, the equestrian team will receive a new, larger equestrian center.

“[There has been] no groundbreaking as of yet, but they are going through the steps and working with architects and engineers in the process for a larger equestrian center,” said McGee.

She sees the equestrian center as a major positive for the program, as it will help her reach her target roster of 60 riders. She estimates that with the addition of the center, the program could easily boast that number.

“Sixty is a very workable number with our time and space as well. We will have to turn away qualified people, as we are bombarded with requests from all over the country from people looking for a good program and school,” said McGee.

With a year of experience and their space needs taken care of, the team can turn to building rivalries with other equestrian programs. Part of the beauty of sports is the evolution of rivalries. Some have a meaning, but others are regional battles for pride and bragging rights. The Jacks have developed a rivalry against one of the better programs in the nation, the University of Nebraska.

“UNL will have some good riders-some that won individual championships. We are going to be fighting hard against them,” she said.

Of course, what would an SDSU sport be without the inevitable clash of the Dakotas? North Dakota State University and SDSU will renew an old rivalry, in a new sport, when the two schools collide later this year.

The season began with a meet at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Sept. 23 and 24. The team finished second, behind Nebraska.