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Notebook: Cowgirls hit the road for Waco

OSU Equestrian

The Oklahoma State equestrian team is off to face top-ranked Baylor at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Willis Family Equestrian Center in Waco, Texas.

The Cowgirls are on the road again.

The Oklahoma State equestrian team is off to Waco, Texas, for a bout with top-ranked Baylor on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Willis Family Equestrian Center.

It’s the first of three trips the No. 4 Cowgirls will make to Waco in the coming months, and the third of eight road trips on the season.

Coach Larry Sanchez, now in his 18th year leading the Cowgirls, said the extra time on the bus affords his team better opportunity to bond, which can pay dividends come April when the team heads to the national tournament.

“As a coach, I see a lot of team bonding and team building opportunities when we’re one the road,” Sanchez said. “You get into the bus for many hours, and you get a chance to know people a little bit better and understand each other a little bit better.”

To this point, team chemistry doesn’t appear to be an issue. The Cowgirls (4-1 overall, 2-0 Big 12) own a better winning percentage than any team in the Big 12. They’re coming off a raw-score tiebreaker victory against then-No. 3 Georgia, 1593.8-1593.5, to close out the fall season.

Sanchez said he and his staff were proud of the growth the team made during the first half of the year, and the winter break paid dividends for the team’s mental health.

“They’re fresh mentally; they’re fresh physically, and they’re pretty excited about getting this semester going, so the break did us some good, mentally anyway,” Sanchez said. “We’re still catching up physically to where we were at the end of last semester, but they’re on track to be ready this weekend.”

Baylor (8-2, 2-1), meanwhile, is riding a five-meet win streak and coming off a pair of victories already in the spring season. The Bears beat TCU on Jan. 26 and Georgia two days later.

OSU bested Baylor earlier in the season 12-8 at Totusek Arena in Stillwater and remains the only undefeated team in the conference.

“Baylor’s a great team; they always are,” Sanchez said. “They’re always really good at home, but we did compete against them last fall here in Stillwater, so we know the type of riders that they have, and so we’re just gonna need to go down there with confidence.

“We had a good meet against them in the fall, and we just need to ride the horses that we draw to the best of our ability and hopefully come out with a win.”

Freshmen making an impact

The Cowgirls have 14 true freshmen and 10 redshirt freshmen on their roster, of which six have ridden and scored points for OSU. Redshirt reiner Hannah Mitchell has won four straight decisions, including a 72-70.5 victory against Georgia’s Kyndall Harper on the final ride of the day that send the meet to raw scores.

True freshman Hannah Janson is 2-0 in equitation over fences after making her debut against TCU in November.

“The girls that we’ve recruited for this year have really come through,” Sanchez said. “We’ve had a few that contributed more probably than we even anticipated, and we’re very excited about that. They’ve really done a good job for us this year, and we’re lookin’ forward to the rest of this year and the next three years with them.”

NCEA expansion efforts progressing

Much was made about the death of collegiate equestrian before the NCAA reaffirmed its commitment to the National Collegiate Equestrian Association in April. Since that time, Sanchez said expansion efforts are progressing well.

“There are a few new schools – one in the Big 12 conference – that’s started asking questions about adding equestrian as a sport, which is exciting,” Sanchez said. “I know there’s a couple of schools in the SEC that are looking at adding teams, so we’re still working toward growing this sport.”

sports@ocolly.com