By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Barely two months on the job, and with a roster that includes 25 freshmen, first-year Baylor equestrian coach Casie Maxwell might still be using name tags when her Bears open the season against West Texas A&M at 10 a.m. Friday at the Willis Family Equestrian Center.
"It's new for everyone," said Maxwell, who was the head coach at Kansas State for seven years until the program was discontinued in June 2016.
"Usually, you look to your upperclassmen for a lot of support and telling the team how to do things. But, we've changed a lot of the processes, so the upperclassmen are a little unfamiliar with how to help the new athletes on our team. So, everybody has had to step back and just listen and pay attention and learn together. But, they've been great about it and come forward with really good ideas."
It's been a smooth transition since the June retirement of Ellen White, who led the team to three Big 12 championships and a Hunt Seat national championship in her 12 years at the helm. Maxwell retained the rest of the staff with Hunt Seat assistant coach Heather Healy, Western assistant coach Cindy Walquist and Director of Operations Ashley Garza.
"I think it was really good that the rest of the staff stayed for us to get through this adjusting year," said senior Charlotte Green, a second-team All-American in horsemanship two years ago. "I've shown every year and, as a senior, it's nice to come in with this new coach and see what we all can do together." Senior Abigail Jorgensen, a Hunt Seat rider, says Maxwell "has been amazing with us."
"She's really good at involving both teams," Jorgensen said. "She's more focused on Western when it comes to coaching, but she's definitely around on our side as well. I feel like I already have a relationship with her, and it's only been a month."
Maxwell says getting the team ready to ride wasn't the hardest part, "it's more behind the scenes for us, just putting out fires and dealing with things."
"We've been trying really hard not to let that kind of bleed into the team and their efforts while we're at practice," she said. "We try to put it aside while we go into the arena and we're coaching and giving them our full attention. And I think everybody on our staff has done a really good job of that. We're getting better, getting our feet under us a little more every day."
Part of the process, Maxwell said, was just reacquainting herself with putting on a home equestrian meet. She was still at K-State last year, but worked in the compliance office.
"I'm kind of sitting around, looking at everybody in my office, saying, `What am I missing? What am I forgetting?''' she said. "I've got to get back in the routine of it, but luckily for me I brought all my stuff with me from the past so I can double-check everything that I remember I did before.
"It's a lot different hosting here, definitely a lot more support staff than I'm used to, which is great. I've just got to get used to knowing who all's covering what and helping us. It's just knowing how all those pieces are falling together is the biggest thing I've had to get familiar with here."
While there is obviously a large contingent of freshman riders, the Bears also return the bulk of a team that won the Big 12 championship and was the No. 1 seed going into last year's NCEA National Championship.
The veteran returners include Hunt Seat riders Rachel Van Allen, Gabby Conte, Samantha Howell and Shannon Hogue and Green, Kaylee Mellott, Aspen Crew, Abbi Demel, Ginger Chant and Shyanne Smith from the Western side. Demel was a first-team All-American in horsemanship, while Van Allen earned second-team All-American honors in equitation on the flat.
"They're really a very united group and just really excited about change," said Maxwell, whose team is ranked fifth in the NCEA preseason rankings. "I think there's some untapped talent on our team that we're looking to really tap into and strengthen the end of our season from what it's been the last couple years. It's all about being a united team with a united goal, but understanding how to get to that end result. You can talk about it all day long, but we have to understand the process, and they've really bought into that."
West Texas A&M competes at the Division II level of NCEA and also in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, winning IHSA national championships in 2003 and 2013. The Lady Buffs finished seventh at last year's national meet.
This will be Baylor's only home meet of the fall season. The Bears go on the road to face fourth-ranked Oklahoma State on Oct. 7, No. 8 SMU on Oct. 14, No. 3 Auburn on Oct. 21 and close out the fall campaign at No. 6 TCU on Nov. 3.
In the spring, they will have more of a balanced schedule with home dates against Auburn, TCU, Oklahoma State and No. 7 South Carolina and road trips to top-ranked Texas A&M and No. 10 Delaware State.
"It's new and we're all young, but I think everyone's really determined to have a good year," Jorgensen said. "So far, the vibe has been really positive. I think everyone's just ready to get going. You don't really know where you stand until you match up with another team, so I think this will be a good test for our freshmen to see how they do."
WACO, Texas - Baylor equestrian will face West Texas A&M on Friday at the Willis Family Equestrian Center in its 2017-2018 season opener.
BU enters its first season under head coach Casie Maxwell, with Friday's meet marking the first contest since she took over at the helm of the program.
The Bears kick off the season as the reigning Big 12 champions after an 11-7 win over Oklahoma State at the 2017 Big 12 Championships, hosted by Baylor in Waco.
After clinching the Big 12 title, the top-seeded Lady Bears advanced to the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) Championships, falling 9-7 to TCU in the quarterfinals.
The Lady Buffs of West Texas A&M closed their 2016-2017 with a 7th place win at the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) National Championships in Lexington, Ky. WTAMU competes at the Division II level of the NCEA.
Following Friday's competition, the Bears will travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma on October 7th to face Oklahoma State.
Fans can keep up with Baylor's equestrian team on Twitter (@BaylorEQ), Facebook (Baylor Equestrian), and Instagram (@BaylorEquestrian).
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Friday September 22, 2017, 10 a.m. start
2016-17 Record: 12-5
2016-17 Big 12 Record: 5-2
Head Coach: Casie Maxwell
Career Record (8th season): 51-60
Record at Baylor (1st season): 0-0
WEST TEXAS A&M LADY BUFFS
Head Coach: Amanda Love (8th season)