In June of 2001, Georgia took a bold step forward in the development of its athletics program when Equestrian was added as the 21st varsity intercollegiate sport. In the 10 years since, the Bulldogs' program has become a national leader, both in the performance and in the movement, toward sponsorship by the NCAA.
2011 Season Recap
Bulldogs' Championship Reign Ends
Georgia was stopped a few points shy of claiming a fourth straight title at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships. Auburn took a decisive 6-2 victory in the Hunt Seat final and therefore, edged the Bulldogs 51-49 in the race for the overall crown.
The VENC overall scoring system awards 36 points for a first-place finish in either discipline, 28 points for second place, 21 for third, 15 for fourth and 10 for fifth place. As a result, Auburn parlayed its Hunt Seat title and fourth-place finish in Western to a 51-point overall total, two better than Georgia, which took second and third, respectively, in the two separate discipline standings. Rounding out the top six overall teams were Western champion Texas A with 42 points, Kansas State with 28, Oklahoma State with 25 and host Baylor with 22.5.
"We are all very proud to be Bulldogs," Georgia coach Meghan Boenig said. "This team has worked as one all season and today was no exception. Everyone was a contributor all the way through. Today we fought hard against a great rival for every point. "
Hunters Take 2nd; Western 3rd
Auburn left little doubt in the Hunt Seat final. The top-seeded Tigers, who won 10 of 15 Hunt Seat points from Georgia in three previous meets this season, took the first two points in the opening event, Equitation on the Flat. After Bulldog junior Michelle Morris won a 6-point victory in her ride, Auburn countered by winning the final ride in a narrow decision over Abby O'Mara.
The Tigers clinched the Hunt Seat and overall titles by taking the first two points in the Fences competition. O'Mara returned to win her ride as Georgia's only Fences point of the day.
Earlier in the day, Georgia had narrowly defeated Auburn in the duel for third place in the Western discipline. The Bulldogs were tied 2-2 after one Western event, but they tallied two points in Horsemanship, from Maria Salazar and Katelyn Van Allen, to Auburn's one point. Still, the match came down to the final ride, when Auburn's Bailey Dymond could only manage a tie with Georgia freshman Anna Sasser, preserving the Bulldog victory by a 4-3 count.
Georgia's third-place Western showing capped a remarkable improvement for the squad, which had struggled through much of the 2011 season. "I can't say enough about the progress our Western team showed this season," Boenig said. "It was a great way to end our journey this season."
Many Bulldogs on 1st All-America Teams
Eight Georgia riders won a total of 10 honors in the first-ever All-America teams for the sport of Varsity Equestrian, according to the committee that selected the squads.
The Varsity Equestrian Selection Committee announced All-America teams in all four competitive events: Equitation over Fences, Equitation on the Flat, Horsemanship and Reining. The four highest-rated riders in each event earned All-America status and others that received votes were named Honorable Mention.
UGA sophomore Carly Anthony earned A-A honors in both Hunt Seat events and was the only Bulldog to earn such a status twice. Hunt Seat teammate Michelle Morris was tabbed an All-American in the Flat event, as well as an Honorable Mention in the Fences. Freshman Abby O'Mara also earned Hunt Seat All-America honors in the Fences event.
Senior Diandra St. Hilaire won All-America honors in the Reining event while freshman McKenzie Lantz (Reining), as well as Maria Salazar (Horsemanship) won Honorable Mention appointment.
"We are so very proud of these young ladies and proud of the tremendous representation that Georgia has on the first All-America squads," Georgia head coach Meghan Boenig said. "This is the first year we've selected All-America teams and therefore, they represent the very best in their respective events. All of them have worked extremely hard this season. They are very deserving of any honors that they earn."
Honors Abound at Team Banquet
Individual MVP honors to seniors Kacy Jenkins in Hunt Seat and Diandra St. Hilaire in Western were among several awards handed out at the Georgia Equestrian team's post-season banquet at the Athens Country Club.
Jenkins, a native of Potomac Falls, Va., has been Georgia's top Fences rider the past two years and was also a 2-year team co-captain. She went 10-3 in the 2011 regular season with three MVP rides. St. Hilaire is from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and she was by far the team's top Reiner this season, going 12-1-1 in the regular season, with five MVP rides.
The Coaches' Awards go annually to the two riders who consistently rise above and beyond the call of duty for the team. In 2011, the Coaches' Awards went to Melanie Carraway on the Hunt Seat side and to Kelly Truesdell from the Western squad. The 2011 Sportsmanship Award, which goes to a pair of riders who display exemplary work ethic and attitude, went to freshman Julia Hemingway from the Hunt Seat side and to Maria Salazar on the Western side.
McKenzie Lantz and Abby O'Mara claimed Rookie of the Year honors in their respective disciplines. Lantz, from Fremont, Mich., went 8-2-1 in Reining in the regular season, with a pair of MVP rides. O'Mara, meanwhile, was perhaps the team's busiest freshman rider, going 9-0-1 in Fences (1 MVP) and 4-6 on the Flat (1 MVP).
The second-ever Standout Student-Athlete Award, an accolade which recognizes one Bulldog who distinguished herself with exemplary behind-the-scenes work, went to sophomore Ali Sullivan of Wilton, Conn. A new award in 2011 recognized the program's Horses of the Year: Hunt Seat - "Nelson"; Western - "Whiz".
The "Mane Dawg" award annually recognizes the contributions of someone who, in an unofficial capacity, displays extraordinary generosity in helping the program. In 2011, the award went to Bishop, Ga., horse trainer Francis Mercier, who volunteered her efforts with Georgia's Western riders through their late-season competitions.