Home arena an advantage for the Jacks equestrian team

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The Jacks open their season Sept. 10 at the Yellow & Blue meet at 8 a.m. in the DeHaan Equestrian Center. They return to the DeHaan Equestrian Center again Oct. 22 against Texas A&M.

For the third straight season, the South Dakota State equestrian team will have a very tough schedule. 

They will be playing over half of the 12 teams that were invited to the National Collegiate Equestrian Association National Championship.

The Jackrabbits open up the season with the Blue and Yellow scrimmage this Saturday at 8 a.m. This is a chance for second year head coach, Ellie Wilkins, to see where everyone on the team is and see everyone ride for the first time this season. 

“It’s hard to tell right now, I’m excited for the scrimmage because that will kind of tell who’s going to be strong for us this year,” Wilkins said. “We have a great group of freshmen this year, they are all strong and it will be great competition for the returners on the roster.”

The Jacks host six meets this season, with the first one on Oct. 22 and the last one on March 11. This could play a big role in their success as most schools in the south have outdoor arenas and don’t experience the cold as much as South Dakota. Also the perennial power-house teams have to travel to South Dakota and ride SDSU’s horses. 

“One big thing for home meets is that we get to use our own horses rather than the other team’s horses, so that’s a big advantage for us,” Wilkins said. 

The Jacks have 11 seniors coming back for their final year, which Coach Wilkins thinks will help with the 10 freshmen that have just joined the team.

“I feel like our seniors are really great, they’re all looking to help the freshmen as much as they can,” Wilkins said. “Most of them have a lot of experience under their belts which will be helpful for some of the freshmen to look up to this year.”

The Jacks lost a lot of seniors from last year’s team, but are looking to reload this year with the new freshmen and returners.

“It’s always hard to fill the people’s spots from the season before, but I think it’s a great opportunity for some of the players to rise up to the challenge.” Wilkins said. 

Nicole Harvey is among one of those 11 seniors coming back for their final season. She received an NCEA All-American Honorable mention last year and was also on the Academic First Team. Harvey had to have hip surgery this last summer, so she won’t be able to ride this fall. 

“I will be riding in the spring, but the requirements for the award are you have to ride in at least five meets and we only have a couple in the spring,” Harvey said. “It’s unfortunate I won’t be able to get that again this year, but it was nice to get it last year knowing I wouldn’t be able to get it this year.”

Harvey said that the goal for her, only riding in the spring, is to have a perfect record in the spring season. She also said the team’s chemistry is at an all-time high from the last couple years she’s been in the program. 

Natalie Howard is another senior leader for the Jackrabbits. She was on the All-Academic First Team last year. She also tied the school record for Most Outstanding Player of the match in a season with two last year.

“I always go to classes, I take it very seriously,” Howard said. “What I’m here for is academics. That’s what’s going to take me far in the future.” 

Howard’s going to give it her all for her final year and give every meet her best even if it’s a small school. 

This year she wants to go for the record for most Most Outstanding Players in a season. She is confident she will tie or even break the record this year.

“I think last year was the best I’ve done here, so this year I’m going to strive to be even better and break the record for most MOP’s in a season,” Howard said. “It’s nice that we have a lot of home meets that I can take advantage of and break the record at home hopefully. My end goal is to be Academic All-American.”

The Jackrabbits open up their fall season in Waco, Texas Sept. 30 at the Willis Invitational. They will close their fall season at home against Georgia Nov. 11 before starting their spring portion of the schedule when Minnesota-Crookston and Oklahoma State visit the DeHaan Equestrian Center Feb. 10-11.