But after the third day of competition, with the Bucs clearly on the verge of winning the program's first-ever state championship, Kosanic's mind was at ease.
“I slept pretty good that night,” she said with a laugh. “Mathematically, there was no other team that could catch us on the final day, and knowing that, it was a good feeling.”
Grand Haven equestrian, which is just in its second season as a varsity sport, has surged up the ladder remarkably quick, as the Bucs captured the Division C title, which features teams with 3 to 5 riders. The Bucs – comprised of Kaitlin Brace, Stephanie Szymas, Corinna Frings and Olivia Ortiz – totaled a stellar 302 points through the series of 17 categories scored from Thursday through Sunday.
Putting it in perspective, the 302 points was just as much, if not more than some of the top Division A and B programs scored at the state finals and they featured several more riders than the Bucs.
But Haven's “Fab 4” was intent on grabbing glory from the get-go, despite the cold, windy, and rainy weather they consistently had to battle through. They secured first place in the team standings after the opening day of competition and never relinquished the top spot. Team members claimed they had a remarkably balanced team entering the finals and their words held true, as Grand Haven scored in 16 out of the 17 categories to beat runner-up Ludington by a healthy 43 points.
“The key is to have a really balanced team because if all riders specialize in the same category, they'll be fighting over points,” Kosanic said. “You want to be diverse as possible and that's what makes this team special.”
Each rider was scored by a pair of judges in each category and the Bucs received high marks from the get-go, including Brace, a senior, who received a first- and second-place in trail – good for 19 points – while Frings placed first and second in jumping.
Frings, a German exchange student, competed in just two categories during the meet, but performed remarkably well, scoring a total of 29 points.
On Day 2, Grand Haven chalked up two more first-place scores, as Szymas was tops in western fitting and showing, and Ortiz, a freshman, had a high score in saddle seat equitation.
Brace had a tremendous third day with first- and third-place scores in western equitation and a second-place score in western bareback. But maybe the most impressive performance on the Bucs' third day was turned in by Ortiz, who had the fastest time in any division in the cloverleaf barrel race, in which the horse and rider complete a cloverleaf pattern around preset barrels in the fastest time.
After she added two more second-place scores in the saddle seat bareback competition on the fourth and final day, Ortiz had accumulated 104 points by herself, which led the Bucs and was more than three teams' final scores in Division C.
“She had an amazing four days for us,” Kosanic said. “As a freshman, she doesn't realize this, but I told her there's some girls that come here for four years and never get a chance to score a point.”
Kosanic said the state championship wouldn't have been possible without a wealth of support from the parents, Grand Haven High School, and several volunteer assistants (including her daughter, Geena). More importantly, Kosanic said she was lucky to have a group of girls who were determined to get better each day in the sport. The team trained at Kosanic's facility and at Grand Haven resident's Karen and Gary Orr.
“I'm so excited for the girls because I know how hard they've worked,” Kosanic said. “They really absorb everything you tell them and really follow through with it in competition.”
Kosanic, who got her start with the program when it was a club sport nine years ago, said it will be difficult replacing Brace, Szymas and Frings, but there's quality talent on deck.
“It's the kind of situation where I got home (on Sunday) and I already can't wait until next year,” she said.
TROJANS PLACE 2ND
Fruitport’s equestrian team also thrived at the state finals, as they took reserve honors to state champion Clare in the Division B.
Coached by Phyla Bramer, the team featured Addison Walstra, Jackson Fitzgerald, Madelyn Williams, Madelyn Knight, Cheyenne Latch, Aubrie Lee, Isabelle Virtue, and Spencer Leech.
Bramer started with the program as an assistant coach in 1999 and has now led the team to the runner-up spot at the state finals two of the past three seasons.
“What went into this was a lot of hard work previous to the state meet,” she said. “The team was very well-prepared.”