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Sanchez, Cowgirl equestrian team ready for season

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Hannah Mitchell

Hannah Mitchell and the Oklahoma State equestrian team are looking to win the national championship this season. 

Coach Larry Sanchez is no stranger to success.

The Oklahoma State equestrian team will begin its pursuit of a sixth national championship at 10 a.m. Saturday against Auburn (6-2) at Totusek Arena.

For Sanchez, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about his team.

“This is a very talented team,” Sanchez said. “I think one of the things that is different with this team compared to teams I’ve had in the past is the sheer number of riders who have been competing for us for one, two and even three years before this one.”

OSU returns six All-Americans from last year’s team in Ebba Lange, Carly Barrick, Maggie Drysch, Hannah Mitchell, Hannah Janson and Danielle Cohen. Newcomers who have made an early impact in Stillwater will also aid the Cowgirls. Stephanie Helsen, Harley Huff and Abby Brayman are expected to contribute to OSU's team this spring as freshmen.

The Cowgirls (3-2, 2-0) notched key conference victories in their fall season against Baylor and TCU, but their most important victory came against the team that eliminated OSU from the postseason last spring in Texas A&M.

“It (the victory) validated what we see every day as coaches, and that’s that these girls are as good as anyone in the country,” Sanchez said. “For my riders to really understand that they’re as good as anyone in the country and the confidence that comes with that, that was the biggest key to the A&M victory.”

The Cowgirls are the only team in the Big 12 ranked in the NCEA top 10 in all four event categories. They're No. 3 in reigning, No. 4 in horsemanship, No. 5 in equitation over fences and No. 7 in equitation on the flat. OSU is third in the team rankings.

“This has the potential to be one of the better teams we’ve ever had as far as across the board, hunt seat and western,” Sanchez said. “I’m very proud of this team and the potential they have.”

Sanchez has built the equestrian program from scratch, beginning in 1999. Under his watch, the Cowgirls have won five national championships and five Big 12 titles.

“I’m very proud (of the program),” Sanchez said. “I’m just happy that my wife and kids have been a major part of this program. I want them to look at this program and be proud of what we’ve created.”

Sanchez said he has high hopes for an OSU team determined to be in the national championship mix come April.

“I have a firm belief that our goal is to win the overall national championship,” Sanchez said. “We have to continue to work hard and get better every meet, but this team has the potential to make it happen.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com