COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The top-ranked Texas A&M equestrian team is on the quest for another national championship, kicking off the 2012-13 season with a show against host South Dakota State Saturday at 9 a.m. (CT). The competition will take place at the DeHaan Equestrian Center in Brookings, S.D., and is the Aggies' first battle as a Southeastern Conference (SEC) team.
"We are ready for our season opener this weekend," head coach Tana McKay said. "South Dakota State has a talented program and is receiving votes in the national poll. I think it will be good for our newer riders to start the season against a challenging opponent. I'm looking forward to seeing our team compete fresh off of our two national championships."
The Aggies, who won two national championships, western and overall, in their first year in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) this spring, own 11 national titles overall. The team has garnered nine Western National Championships (3 IHSA, 5 VENC, 1 NCEA) and two Overall National Championships (1 VENC, 1 NCEA).
The Aggies return nearly 40 riders from the 2011-12 team, including 2012 All-Americans Carey Nowacek (pronounced no-WAH-check), Becca Murray and Amanda Brightwell. Nowacek came away from her Big 12 career with the 2012 conference Horsemanship Rider of the Year award.
McKay also headlined the Aggies' conference honors, earning the title of Big 12 Equestrian Coach of the Year while placing a league-best six student-athletes on the All-Big 12 roster. Nowacek, Murray and Brightwell each return for their senior seasons after taking spots on the all-conference teams and will anchor the western squad.
Nowacek (12 wins, 5 MVPs) and Brightwell (10 wins, 2 MVPs) will head up the horsemanship team while Murray (11 wins, 2 MVPs) and junior Lindsey Bernbaum (11 wins, 3 MVPs) are the marquee riders for the reining squad.
On the hunter seat side, the national runners-up will be led by over fences riders Leah Chenelle (9 wins, 1 MVP), All-American Emily Williams (3 MVPs), and Kori Pickett (6 wins, 1 MVP) and flat competitor Haley Buchmiller (9 wins, 1 MVP).
The team welcomes 11 freshmen to the mix for its first season in the SEC. The Aggies are tied with SEC foe Georgia for the No. 1 spot on the preseason Equestrian Coaches Poll. The four teams sponsored by SEC member schools took the top four spots, with Auburn finishing third and South Carolina taking the No. 4 slot.
The Aggies and Jackrabbits have met one other time, in November of 2009 when the Aggies advanced to a 13-3 victory at the Brazos County Expo Center.
Fans interested in following the action can get scoring updates via Twitter at @AggieEquestrian.
To learn more about Texas A&M equestrian, log on to AggieAthletics.com and follow the team's Twitter feed.