By Cody Soto
No. 6 Baylor equestrian took home its sixth straight Willis Invitational title Saturday after it defeated University of Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, and Southern Methodist University at the Willis Family Equestrian Center.
“Our coaches put a lot of pressure on us to uphold the Willis trophy for our sponsors, but we have been practicing hard and preparing for this meet since the start of the semester,” senior Sam Schaefer said. “I definitely felt like we were really prepared, and it’s great to come home with a W.”
Baylor (1-0) has won all previous season openers for the past six years as part of the Willis Invitational. Although the team was a heavy favorite through the weekend, the Bears still needed to prove themselves to uphold the tradition, junior Mary Brown said.
“We knew we were a better team than all of them, so we just have to prove it. It’s still hard to do,” Brown said.
This was the first meet since Baylor lost to Georgia in the NCEA National Quarterfinals last spring. Georgia went on to win the national championship after beating Baylor.
Head coach Ellen White used a variety of athletes in her lineups last weekend, putting in both veterans and freshmen into each event.
“I was excited because we really took some of our freshman and some people who have switched positions and took them out there, and they really stepped up. We really have a deep squad,” White said.
Baylor went against UT Martin (0-1) in the first round of the meet Friday and used a 3-1 decision in both reining and horsemanship events to take the round 9-7 over the Skyhawks.
“We almost slipped up the beginning of the meet by almost letting UT Martin get past us, but as the weekend went on, we definitely were a little bit sharper in every detail from start to finish,” Schaefer said.
The Bears then faced Fresno State (0-1) in the second round of the Willis Invitational on Friday and Saturday. Baylor used its strong hunt seat performances to edge the Bulldogs 10-6 after tying with Fresno State in the western events.
Baylor competed against No. 10 SMU (0-1) to close out the Willis Invitational and dominated its way past the Mustangs. The Bears only dropped one point in equitation on the flat and breezed past SMU 14-1 in the final round.
Baylor took home all possible Most Outstanding Player awards in each round, winning a total of 12 MOP honors for the weekend. Schaefer received the MOP award for equitation over fences in the win over SMU. Brown won two MOP awards on Saturday, one in horsemanship vs. Fresno State and another in reining against SMU.
The Bears will stay at home for four straight meets this fall before taking a five-meet road trip in the spring.
“It’s always harder to get a win on the road, so I think this fall really gives us a chance to use a lot of our freshmen and let them really get their feet wet,” White said. “By the spring, they’ll be riding different horses and I think they’ll relish this experience that they’ve had in the fall.”
The Willis Family Equestrian Center will also serve as the site for the NCEA National Championships April 16-18. The meet in Waco will serve as a strong advantage for the Bears during national competition and gets the team excited about the future.
“I love competing at home,” White said. “Our facilities are great. Our administrators that come help us out are great, and we have a lot of parent support this year that has been here through it all. The team is happy to be at home and dominate.”
White is pleased with the performance of her team so far and is ready to go up against even better competition to help prepare the team for the national championships.
“We are going up against all of the top teams [this season] which are good because when you get to championships, you know what we need to do to make it happen,” White said. “There’s nothing worse coming in confident and knowing we have not competed against someone.”
Baylor will open Big 12 play at home against Oklahoma State on Oct. 18. The meet is set to start at 10 a.m. at the Willis Family Equestrian Center.