TOWSON, Md. — Coming off of its most successful season in program history, Goucher's equestrian team begins its quest to remain at the top of the national stage this weekend in Lynchburg, Va.
The Gophers and first-year equestrian director/head coach Jen Bunty begin their season at the Tournament of Champions Preseason Classic, a non-points event which will feature some of the sport's top collegiate riding programs.
"It's modeled after the intercollegiate shows," Bunty explained. "It's set up so that the best schools in the country can see how they measure up to each other before the regular season starts. You only take points riders to this show, and we're going to debut some of our freshmen and see how they fare in a really intense situation."
Goucher is looking to build on a 2012-13 season which saw the Gophers finish tied for fifth at the IHSA National Horse Show. Last season was the program's third-ever appearance at nationals, and Goucher also won its sixth IHSA Zone IV, Region I title in the last 11 years.
"We had a really amazing year last season," Bunty said. "Each time we've gone to nationals, we've performed increasingly better. All of the other teams that were in the top five have won national championships, so it's incredible just to be in the same league as them."
The Gophers lost four graduated seniors from that team, including standout performers Karli Postel and Addie Jabin, but 14 riders return as well.
Junior and team co-captain Joey Fink (Baltimore, Md./The Park School) is among those returners, and he will take over Postel's spot as the team's top-level rider. Anna Carmichael (Colorado Springs, Colo./William J. Palmer), Kaili Janette (New Haven, Conn./Hebrew High School of New England) and Kaduk Sherpa (East Aurora, N.Y./The Park School), who all competed at nationals last year, will also be back, as will co-captain Laura Malone (Weston, Mass./Weston).
Bunty is also excited about her incoming freshmen class of Sarah Lummis (Westminster, Md./Winters Mill), Alison Radgowski (Northport, N.Y./Northport) and Hannah Woodson (Timonium, Md./Dulaney). A change in the IHSA's region format will open up additional opportunities for other riders as well.
"One thing we're really excited about this year is our region has split," Bunty said. "So we're going to be competing against a smaller number of schools in our regular horse shows. It's going to give some of the other team members a chance to compete more."
After this weekend, the Gophers' regular season is scheduled to begin on Oct. 6, when Goucher will host its fall IHSA show. Bunty is optimistic about her team's chances to continue its history of success.
"I definitely think we can repeat our recent success in the region," she said. "Competition in our zone is always tough, but we should have a better idea of where we stand after this weekend."