By Liz Shepard
Special to the Leader
It wasn’t a spot the Oxford High School Equestrian Team was used to being in — they hadn’t clinched a guaranteed trip to the state championship after one day of competition.
The Wildcats sat in third place out of eight schools Sunday morning, just outside the top two spots that would earn the team its 17th consecutive showing at the state championship.
“This year’s regional event was a bit more stressful than previous years,” said Dee Shepard, Oxford’s head coach. “We started out fairly well in showmanship then got roasted in the next classes by Fr. Gabriel Richard High School (Ann Arbor) and Mason…We fell behind, which was worrisome.”
So the team rallied during the final day of the Michigan Interscholastic Horsemanship Association Region E Championship Sunday.
“Regionals this year was a lot different experience than in years past — day one was rough,” said Kellie Roth, assistant coach and 2008 OHS grad. “The girls made mistakes and the weather and judging were not always in our favor. We ended the day sitting in third place, a position we are not used to or enjoy being in.”
While not used to being the underdog, the Wildcats played the part well, rounding out the weekend with a total of 427. Their closest competitor — Mason with 299 points. Fr. Gabriel Richard High School ended the weekend with 228 points.
“There was definitely lots of pressure going into day two but the girls pulled it together and had some great rides on Sunday,” Roth said. “I was, of course, still hopeful we could win, but did not expect to win by over 100 points after day one.”
Oxford and Mason move on to the MIHA State Championship, which will be held Oct. 13-16 at the Midland County Fairgrounds.
Oxford competes in the B division, which consists of teams with five to 10 riders.
“State is always a great experience for the riders,” Shepard said. “We, of course, go with the goal of winning a championship, but I do believe the experience of competing at the state level really provides a valuable experience in dealing with pressure and competition with a wide variety of competitors.”
Oxford will be competing for the state championship against teams from Berrien Springs, Bullock Creek, Caro, Grand Haven, Gull Lake, Mason, Midland, South Lyon and Traverse City St. Francis.