Fall Sports Preview: Grand Haven equestrian hopes to win a second-straight state title

Nich Wolak • Updated Aug 17, 2016 at 3:23 AM

The Grand Haven equestrian team galloped its way to a state championship in 2015.

But the Buccaneers aren’t content, they want back-to-back titles.

“I totally think that's a doable situation,” said coach Jo Ann Kosanic. “I did lose two riders, but I have three new riders, so I actually have one more rider on my team than last year. I kind of consider (the new riders) green as far as competition wise, but all three of them have just made great strides this summer. I think they're going to do great. I think we're going to be just as good as last year. Having another rider allows us to specialize more in some areas. I think it allows us to be a bit better.”

She said the squad has already talked about taking two crowns in a row.

“They’re goal setters, every one of them,” Kosanic said. “We’ve already discussed this year. Certain kids have certain classes they want this year. I don’t doubt that we will repeat because they’re just as awesome as last year’s team.”

The Bucs bring back a big three in junior Cassidy Ryder and seniors Lily Atkinson and Rya Greene. The trio all contributed more than 40 points in their 366-345 state title win over Howell — the team’s only close call of the postseason.

All three riders took it to another level in the offseason, competing at the American Quarterhorse Novice Championships in North Carolina. Atkinson finished second in her age group.

“All three of them worked hard all summer,” Kosanic said. “… All three girls did really well in North Carolina. It's kind of fun to show on a national platform, you see how well you’re doing in the nation versus our little state or area.

“That experience is a real confidence builder. It's an experience that they didn't have last year, that they have this year. It's an experience that really helped their confidence.”

Sophomore Ashlynne McKee also returns for Grand Haven, while grooms Alli Ruble (senior) and Sara Sokoly (sophomore) will saddle up this season. The only true newcomer joining the power program is freshman Paige Beland.

Grand Haven has won two of the last three state titles and made the top two in four of the past five years.

“It’s hard to say, there's so much going on,” Kosanic said, when asked what was the key to the program’s success. “I think the quality of the riders and the support of the community. I see so many teams struggle with different aspects of the game.

“… We have kids in this area that just have a really good work ethic. … I'm a really big person as far as goal setting and getting kids to identify what their objectives are. These kids just seem to adapt really well to that — they're just a good group of girls.”

She said this year’s bunch has similar qualities.

“They're a really cohesive group,” Kosanic said. “I think I have the best riders in the state, but I don’t think that the key to a good team. It's kids that gel together and work together. These kids do that. They're so accepting and work together. That's a key to a good team.”

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