The Bridgewater College riding team is preparing for a big weekend as the ODAC Championships and the Zones Championship will both be contested. The ODAC champion will be determined Friday at Randolph College while the Zones competition will be held Saturday at Goucher College.
Just one year removed from making the program's first team appearance at the IHSA National Show, the BC riders are once again in position to earn a spot at this year's National Show.
"I feel like we have a really good team going to Zones," first-year head coach Jerry Schurink said. "Whether or not we're good enough, we will find out Saturday."
As with any change in leadership, there are always some growing pains. The BC riding program was no different.
"Coach Irvine and I have different coaching styles, different approaches," Schurink said. "For the most part, I think it was a very positive transition. I had to learn about our riders – what they could and could not do. And, the riders had to adjust to my philosophy and techniques."
Senior Lauren Casey felt the coaching transition went smoothly, in part because both Irvine and Schurink are quality coaches.
"I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to ride for both," Casey said. "Both Sarah and Jerry have great qualities. Jerry is very detailed and he really focuses on us as individual riders. I know that he has taught me a lot of new things this season that have helped me improve."
The riders turned in a solid fall season and were second in the regional standings.
"In the fall preseason, I was with the riders for 10 days," Schurink said. "That's not a lot of time for a new coach. If you look back, we used a lot of different riders in the fall IHSA shows. It was a chance for a lot of different riders to show in a pressure situation."
When the spring season started, the Eagles hit their stride. First-place finishes at Randolph and Sweet Briar moved BC to the top of the regional standings. The riders closed out the season with second-place efforts at Hollins and BC and a fourth-place at Virginia to win their second consecutive regional title.
"In the spring we were able to practice as a team every Friday afternoon," Schurink said. "I think that helped build team camaraderie."
The IHSA competitions are one of the few chances riders get to show in a team situation.
"The team aspect is one of the reasons IHSA is so huge," the BC head coach said. "Growing up, these kids are showing all the time as individuals at big shows, but there are few opportunities to be a part of a team."
Having the ODAC show and Zones on consecutive days is not an ideal scenario, but the riders and coaching staff are looking forward to a competitive weekend.
"The problems for me are mainly logistical," Schurink said. "It would be much more difficult if I did not have quality assistants to help with this weekend.
"Ashley (Holsinger) is the assistant for the ODAC show and is doing an excellent job preparing that group. Beth (Boteler) will be the assistant with the IHSA team. She will conduct practice Friday morning and then go with the IHSA team to Goucher. She will get a good look at the horses Friday evening and then I will join the team Saturday morning."
None of the riders showing at the ODAC show will be showing at the Zones championship.
"We have a lot of very good riders and depth within our program," said Schurink. "I am very confident that we will perform well at both events."
In past years, the ODAC show has been somewhat overshadowed by the IHSA competitions. Schurink hopes to change that perception in the future.
"The ODAC should be a big deal and we are going to make it a big deal," he said. "This year we are leasing a horse for the show (teams show their own horses at the ODAC show) and we will be using one of my personal horses for the show.
"When you think about it, the ODAC is really the one time where we get the opportunity to represent our athletic department at a championship event. With the IHSA shows we operate under the athletic department umbrella, but the ODAC show is where we compete for a conference title just like every other sport."
In the future, Schurink will ramp up competition for the ODAC event by having a mandatory tryout show prior to the ODAC event. "There is a show at the Virginia Horse Center prior to the ODAC show that we will attend. If you want to ride at the ODAC show, it will be mandatory to ride at this show. It will serve as a tryout."
Four riders will compete for the Eagles at the ODAC show. All four will compete over fences and two will show on the flat.
On Saturday the focus will shift to the IHSA team. The BC riders will compete with the host Goucher program, Delaware and St. Andrews for a chance to advance to the national show. The top two teams will earn a trip to nationals.
The experience of riding at the zones and national shows a year ago won't be a big advantage for the Bridgewater riders. In fact, Casey expects this year to be a little tougher for the Eagles.
"Last year we had the advantage of being on our home turf. We knew all of the horses and felt really comfortable," Casey said. "We have been to Goucher before and they have great horses. I feel like we have a very good team and we're confident. It should be a very good, competitive show."
In addition to the team competition, four Bridgewater riders will compete as individuals in hopes of earning a trip to the National Show. Sarah Black will compete in Intermediate on the Flat while Taylor Rose will compete in Intermediate Overs Fences. Allyson Gallamore will show in Walk-Trot and Katie Leonard will compete in Novice on the Flat.
"I am very comfortable with the group that will be representing the College at the Zones," Schurink said. "We compete in a very strong region – a region that typically produces a lot of national qualifiers. We're looking forward to the weekend."