This week the Cornell equestrian team heads on the road to Zone finals on its journey to nationals. Coming off of a nearly undefeated season and a strong showing at Regionals two weeks ago, the Red is ready to face its toughest challenge yet.
“It’s not going to be a walk in the park, that’s for sure,” said head coach Chris Mitchell.
This year, the squad is sending four riders to Saratoga Springs to compete as individuals and as the regional championship team, Cornell also qualified to send seven riders as a team. Two of the team riders senior Bronwyn Scrivens and freshman Georgiana de Rham, are also two of the four individual riders. According to junior co-captain Emily Kowalchik, the team that will be competing at Zones, is almost the same squad that has competed at the past two Tournaments of Champions. These tournaments are invite-only competitions between all of the top teams in the nation, so most of the riders on the Zones team have experienced competing together against high caliber teams before.
“This will be quite obviously a higher pressure situation than we’ve been in this year,” Kowalchik said.
“This show determines more or less the rest of the season,” said senior co-captain Katie Fink.
Mitchell stressed the importance of competing in the Tournament of Champions in order to prepare for Zones, as this gives some of the riders the chance to experience other top level teams.“That type of talent is there,” he said.
The fact that the team for Zones has already experienced showing together will also be an advantage.
“I think we know [now] how best to handle our nerves. We’ve come a long way since the first tournament we went to in September where nerves were kind of a big issue for us — I’m not concerned anymore about that for this group of girls,” Kowalchik said.
With more shows under its belt this season (this is the first year that the Red has gone to all three Tournaments of Champions), the squad is a little bit more experienced this year than it was previously. According to Fink, last year was the Red’s first time at Zones and the team has never qualified for nationals before.
“We have a much stronger team this year than we did last year,” said Mitchell. “I think we have a very good chance of advancing.”
The Red’s biggest competitor will most likely be Skidmore, the host of Saturday’s show and the favorite to win, according to Mitchell. However, the squad is excited to return to the top- notch facilities of its former rival. According to Fink, it has been two years since the team has competed at Skidmore. The small Saratoga Springs college is well-known for its superior riding program, and the Red is especially looking forward to riding its high quality horses.
“They’re all really, really great horses and I think we’re excited about that,” said Kowalchik.
While Mitchell, as well as some of the veterans are familiar with Skidmore, the majority of the riders who will be going to Zones have never competed there before, according to Kowalchik.
Freshman Georgiana de Rham is one of the riders who has never competed at Skidmore before. She will be representing the Red in intermediate fences as an individual and the intermediate flat team rider in this weekend’s show.
“I’m really looking forward to showing there because they have really nice horses and it’s a really quality program, but at that same time that can kind of psych you out,” she said.
Still, de Rham is hoping that the Zones will give the squad a chance to prove itself as well as adavance to nationals.
“I want to do well because I want to show them that Cornell has a strong program,” she said.
Indeed, the team practices have been harder and more intense this week in order to get ready for the big day, according to junior Katie Rong and Fink. The outcome might be uncertain, but the squad wants to ensure that it is ready for whatever challenges it may face.
“There [are] so many things that we can’t control on the day of the show just because we’re dealing with animals and there is [an] unpredictable nature to that,” Kowalchik said. “I think the only thing that we can do right now is try to eliminate the number of the things that we can’t control … [we’re] trying to make sure that we worked harder than everyone else.”