It was one of only two classes pinned to eighth place on June 2nd and the only one in Ringoes, New Jersey. From left to right are Julie Bigham, Danielle Moraski, Tara Mathews, Katie Diaz, Kayleigh Burke, Heather Ercolano, Erica Green and Sarah Lent. This group made up the top eight in the Hunter Seat Alumni Cup class with former Virginia Tech rider Burke winning the division for the second year in a row.


Ringoes, NJ/Oxford, OH - Trying to cover the Alumni Tournament of Champions events in 2019 was more challenging than usual, as the hunter seat classes and western classes were held on the same day but over 400 miles apart.

While Briarwood Farm at Black River Farm in Ringoes, New Jersey set a record for becoming the first site to host an Alumni Tournament event three times the Miami University of Ohio Equestrian Center in Oxford, Ohio hosted western for the second season in a row. This also is a record as none of the first four sites used for western from 2014-17 had been visited a second time so far.

Out in Ohio a record number of Western entries signed up to compete. One of them is former Ohio State University rider Elisabeth Bianco. Seemingly a fixture at IHSA Nationals for most of this decade, Bianco won the advanced horsemanship division on June 2nd while placing second in the western alumni cup to another former Ohio State rider in Catherine Lach. If you have a great memory then you might think you are reading about the 2018 Western Tournament of Champions, for Bianco earned the exact same ribbons at the 2018 event the previous June 17th.

Meanwhile in New Jersey several riders with previous wins at ATOC events earned the right to put their names onto perpetual trophies for a second time. In the case of the Hunter Seat Alumni Cup former Virginia Tech rider Kayleigh Burke now has her name on the same trophy two years in a row! Burke was third through the jumping phase, having received a score of '79' from judge Maria Takacs. Burke's flat phase ride and the call-back elevated her over former West Chester University rider Katie Diaz (an '81' over fences, the top jumping score in the division) and former Stony Brook University rider Heather Ercolano (an '80' over fences) to claim the most prestigious victory of the day.

2017 Washington and Lee University graduate Ashley Ooms poses near the list of sponsors after having won the Reunion Fences division. Ooms received the top judge's score in the division with an '82' and held the top spot after testing.

Two seasons ago Tara Mathews was the 2017 hunter seat Alumni Cup champion. In 2019 Mathews won the advanced flat division. With 20 entries the advanced flat turned out to be the largest class of the day at either location for alumni who showed IHSA at least once in 2018-19. A former Cacchione qualifier with the University of Connecticut (she rode in the division at 2008 Nationals in Burbank), Mathews recently made history by becoming the first IHSA rider ever to win both an alumni western and a hunter seat alumni class at IHSA Nationals. The former Tara Lynch won alumni flat and alumni western horsemanship on May 4th in Syracuse, New York prior to today's advanced flat win. Mathews, who has been part of the Mount Holyoke College coaching staff the past several seasons, also was given the High Point award on June 1st. This award is given out at a pre-show social gathering to the rider with the most combined alumni flat and fences points for the 2018-19 IHSA regular season. This was the second season in a row that Mathews received this honor. We would be remiss if we did not mention Mathews won the 2015 2'6' fences division, giving her at least one blue ribbon in three of the past five hunter seat ATOC shows.

Former Tufts University rider (and later head coach) Katie Schaaf will for the time being have the ATOC record for gaps between blue ribbons at one of their events. Schaaf first rode at an ATOC event in 2015, when she won the Reunion flat division in Stevenson, Maryland. Though she just missed winning the Reunion fences last season Schaaf won the 2'3" fences division this season. Normally this division is limited to riders who made at least one IHSA regular season appearance during the past season but due to a smaller than expected number of entries the class was opened up to those who might otherwise ride in Reunion fences (which would have meant jumping 2'6"). The first alumni tournament was held in 2012 (an English-only event as western alumni events did not commence until 2014). With this only the eighth hunter seat alumni event there had not been any riders with a four-year gap between firsts until Schaaf's win today. Judge Takacs was especially impressed with Schaaf's jumping, for her score of '83' was the highest announced score for any rider in Ringoes on the 2nd.

Sandra Sayre's daughter (on far left) can claim that her Mother (second on right) has won more alumni classes at IHSA Nationals than anyone in the IHSA's 52 year history. Three times a winner in alumni flat and twice in alumni fences, Sayre sponsored the alumni flat class at the ATOC in Ringoes and got to present the blue ribbon to Drew University graduate Michelle McQueen (second on left). On the far right is Karen Sykes, the Drew head coach from 2001 to 2019 and for four of those years McQueen's coach. Sayre and Sykes were also teammates at Drew around 1990.

Each of the other five winners at Briarwood took home a blue ribbon at an ATOC event for the first time. West Chester University had four former riders entered and while Diaz came up just short of a blue her former teammate Vanessa Lempicky was able to seal the deal. A 2016 graduate, Lempicky won the Reunion flat (made up of 23 riders, thus the largest class of the day) and nearly won the Reunion fences as well during what was her ATOC debut. Two other former West Chester riders, Mackenzie Haverdink and Shauna Stanley rode in the Reunion flat with Lempicky. Stanley was also in the ribbons in the division, placing fifth. Schaaf was the runner-up.

Like Schaaf, Lempicky herself was nearly a double-blue winner. However she was bested in Reunion Fences by 2017 Washington and Lee University graduate Ashley Ooms. Ooms had the top judge's score in Reunion fences with an '82' to edge out Lempicky's '80.' No other rider among the field of 18 reached the 80's. Ooms was one of two Washington and Lee riders entered in the division. 2014 graduate Claire Stevenson was out of the ribbons here but later earned a fourth in the Reunion flat.

Schools with Washington in their name produced two of the winners at Briarwood. The first division of the day to be held was the 2'6" fences. Rori Fiebert, a 2012 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis earned a judge's score of '81' as the twelfth rider to go out of 20 entries. The top judge's score went to Wilson College graduate (and current Wilson coach) Megan Mendenhall with a '82' (second to go). Mendenhall, who was second to Mathews in the overall high point award given out on June 1st, was the only rider entered who also rode at the inaugural Alumni Tournament of Champions in 2012. The top four were tested in each of the jumping classes and Fiebert moved up into the lead during the test (canter fence one, canter fence three, halt, trot fence seven, canter fence six and sit to the trot back to the gate). This was Fiebert's first appearance at an ATOC event. One of Fiebert's former teammates, 2010 graduate Arielle Hoffman, was sixth in Reunion fences.

West Chester University graduate Vanessa Lempicky nearly won twice on June 2nd. Lempicky was second to Ooms in the reunion fences and is seen here with her blue ribbon won in the reunion flat later in the day.

With one scratch there were only five riders entered in the future alumni cup division. Each of the 2019 graduates jumped following the conclusion of the 2'6" fences and flatted prior to the traditional alumni cup flat classes (which were run in heats due to the size). Chloe Hoerner, who was part of the Long Island University - C.W. Post College team that won their third consecutive Zone 2, Region 4 Region Title this season, received a score of '81' while Justine Perrotti of Lafayette College received a score of '78.' No other riders scored higher than a '71.' Unsurprisingly when the placings were announced Hoerner won while Perrotti (a 2019 Nationals qualifier in intermediate fences) was the reserve champion.

Riders who showed alumni during the IHSA regular season who are not confortable competing at the advanced flat level compete instead in what is known simply as the 'Alumni Flat. For the past few seasons this division has been sponsored by former Drew University rider Sandra Sayre, who was on hand to present the award to whoever might win the class. One of the ten riders entered was former Drew University rider (and current Drew volunteer assistant coach) Michelle McQueen. Also on hand to watch was Karen Sykes, a 1991 Drew graduate and former teammate of Sayre who just recently stepped down as the Drew head coach after 18 seasons (plus eight more as the assistant coach). One of the reasons Sykes was on hand is that she was to pick up a horse named "Minnie" whom she was aquiring from Briarwood if we were informed correctly. Minnie was used in the show and by coincidence is the horse that McQueen drew for the alumni flat. And in yet another coincidence McQueen went on to win the class on her former coach's new horse! It should be noted that Sayre is not always on hand to present this award which made the gathering of former Drew riders in the winner's circle all the more impressive.

One of the class sponsors was also a competitor at Briarwood. Tufts University graduate Gale Pollack (on far left) sponsored the 2'6" fences. Pollack did not jump on June 2nd but showed in the reunion flat division. By graduating in 1982 Pollack can claim to be the alumni rider with the earliest graduation date of anyone to ever show at an ATOC event, knocking 1984 College of St. Elizabeth graduate Sandy Rose (not pictured) out of the record books. Pollack also traveled the furthest to compete on June 2nd, coming up from the Tampa, Florida area. Winning the 2'6" fences was former Washington University in St. Louis rider Rori Fiebert (third from right), who like Pollack was making her debut at an ATOC event.

After having seen Western numbers go down in 2017 the decision to move the Western portion of the ATOC to Oxford, Ohio has provided a boost. Numbers were up last season and in 2019 a new record was set with almost 40 riders entered. Several schools with a noteworthy history of sending western IHSA riders to Nationals are located within a day's driving distance of the Miami University of Ohio Equestrian Center. Schools such as Ohio State, Grand Valley State, Alfred University, The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Miami of Ohio had multiple graduate riders entered in the show. The first two schools mentioned here had the most success. 2018 Buckeye graduate Lach (whose last name is pronounced "Lock") won the multi-phased Western Alumni Cup class in her ATOC debut as well as taking the blue ribbon in alumni horsemanship. Bianco, who graduated before Lach was of college age, gave Ohio State three of the six blue ribbons with her win in advanced horsemanship. Grand Valley State riders won twice as Kelsey Prosch-Jensen took home the blue in alumni reining while Laura Zemaitis won the future alumni cup (the one division that still needs some growth; The ability to entice those who show in IHSA Reining classes and who are also seniors is always the key to how many sign up to compete in this multi-phase division). Rounding out the list of blue ribbon winners was Lexi Buckheit of Alfred University. A 2015 graduate of the school located in Western New York State, Buckheit prevailed in the advanced reining division.

The Facebook post that captured the spirit of the ATOC series: If you read the class-by-class results at the end of this story you will see that Andrea LaManque of Morrisville State College placed sixth in alumni reining. LaManque was of great importance outside the ring at the Western ATOC show. Initially offering to be of help, LaManque was basically in charge of the Western event on June 2nd. With ATOC series founders Lena Andrews and Jamie Windle both at the hunter seat event LaManque was involved in every facet of the Western event as well as the pre-show social gathering. Following the show LaManque wrote an endearing Facebook post on the ATOC Facebook page to talk almost as much about her enjoyment of the event as the event itself. Among others LaManque referenced Andrews, Windle and former SUNY - Cobleskill riders Lee Levine and Christa Bramberger (who ride against LaManque during the regular season within Zone 2, Region 3), who traveled from Upstate New York to Ohio with LaManque. LaManque gave us permission to re-post her Facebook piece. Here is her post with some minor editing:

Seen here at 2019 IHSA Nationals after placing fifth in alumni western horsemanship on May 4th, Kelsey Prosch-Jensen faired much better in the Alumni Tournament Western divisions on June 2nd in Oxford, Ohio. The former Grand Valley State rider won Alumni Reining, was second in Alumni Horsemanship and placed fourth in the Alumni Cup.

"I always find it difficult to recap these shows because there's always so much to say. This will be lengthy; I apologize. I've said it every year since the beginning: "This is my favorite show of the year!" but it's true for so many reasons. The 2019 show was the largest Western Alumni Tournament of Champions we have had to date (nearly double the number of entries). The competition was fierce, the horses played well, and the weather was perfect all day – truly couldn't have asked for a better day. Huge shout out and thank you to Miami University (Beth Frey) for hosting the show, their students for prepping & holding horses, Katie Finkes-Turner & Patrick Schwarz for providing horses. Thank you to Mark King for photographing the exhibitor party and the show – you're the best, and we cannot wait to see your pictures! Thank you to the horses I drew; Larry & Buckle for the Advanced & Cup Horsemanship classes; Half Pint, who helped me to 6th out of 12 in the NRHA Alumni Reining! And Mickey (who I was nervous to ride because I was kinda intimidated by him last year and I really wanted to scratch from my last class for the day, but thanks to several people who persuaded me to go in anyway); might have been my best ride and we scored a 69 in the Sundial Cup Reining! Through the IHSA and this show I've been able to compete against many strong riders and meet the incredible, supportive women they are outside the ring. ATOC was created based on getting collegiate equestrian alumni together, to meet new friends and stay connected through having fun with the horses in IHSA Finals-esque shows. Yes, we can always ride our best in hopes to win but exhibiting good sportsmanship should always be just as (or more) important than the shows themselves. Thank yous, of course, to Lee & Christa, for being great travel buddies; this was our 5th ATOC/road trip/girls' weekend. No matter where we go, it's always an adventure. Sometimes there's sketchy hotels, or random food spots that end up being awesome, but we have fun going to Rod's, and counting the broken-down cars and Jesus-y billboards along the highway. I can't wait for next year's trip! Lastly, thank you, thank you to Lena & Jamie for creating these amazing events. You ladies have worked so hard to make these shows successful and I'm very grateful for it. Back in August Lena asked if I would help with the social media posts on Facebook and Instagram, and somewhere along the way I became the "go-to" person for the Western shows. Happy to say I'll be back to assist in 2020!"

LaManque then added more the next day:

"I was super tired last night so... Edited to add: How could I forget...Thank you to all of our incredible sponsors! What would we do without you! We have some great people and companies that sponsored the prizes for this show also! Nutrena Horse Feed, Sundial Show Clothing, National Reining Horse Association, Intercollegiate Horse Show Alumni Association, Bob's Custom Saddles, Best Ever Pads, SmartPak, KJ Creations, Back on Track USA, FarmVet, Avon, The Fit Equestrian and of course Crystal Cowen who sponsored the high score awards! Thank you everyone!"

--Steve Maxwell

The June 2nd Hunter Seat Class-By-Class Results, listed in the order in which they were held. The Judge was Maria Takacs:

2'6" Fences. 1. Rori Fiebert, Washington University in St. Louis. 2. Megan Mendenhall, Wilson College. 3. Heather Ercolano, Stony Brook University. 4. Tara Mathews, University of Connecticut. 5. Ashleigh Bieder, Binghamton University. 6. Melissa Korteweg, Amherst College.

Future Alumni Cup (combined flat and fences phases): 1. Chloe Hoerner, Long Island University - C.W. Post College. 2. Justine Perrotti, Lafayette College. 3. Carolyn Rosazza, Virginia Tech. 4. Autumn Ortiz, West Virginia University. 5. Amanda Miller, Rider University.

Reunion Fences: 1. Ashley Ooms, Washington and Lee University. 2. Vanessa Lempicky, West Chester University. 3. Irene Peluso, Fairfield University. 4. Hayley Menkins, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. 5. Erin Centolanza, University of Kentucky. 6. Arielle Hoffman, Washington University in St. Louis.

Hunter Seat Alumni Cup (combined flat and fences phases): 1. Kayleigh Burke, Virginia Tech. 2. Katie Diaz, West Chester University. 3. Heather Ercolano, Stony Brook University. 4. Tara Mathews, University of Connecticut. 5. Erica Green, Washington and Jefferson College. 6. Danielle Moraski, Binghamton University. 7. Sarah Lent, Morrisville State College. 8. Julie Bigham, University of Maryland.

2'3" Fences: 1. Katie Schaaf, Tufts University. 2. Hannah Goldbach, American University. 3. Katy Hannon, Rochester Institute of Technology. 4. Juliana Cipressi, Clarion University. 5. Jessie Ann Bolash, Hofstra University/Illinois State University. 6. Jess Benner, Kutztown University.

Reunion Flat: 1. Vanessa Lempicky, West Chester University. 2. Katie Schaaf, Tufts University. 3. Lauren Gould, Centenary University. 4. Claire Stevenson, Washington and Lee University. 5. Shauna Stanley, West Chester University. 6. Jess Benner, Kutztown University.

Alumni Flat: 1. Michelle McQueen, Drew University. 2. Katy Hannon, Rochester Institute of Technology. 3. Megan Mendenhall, Wilson College. 4. Ashley Bieder, Binghamton University. 5. Samantha Trace, Westfield State University. 6. Juliana Cipressi, Clarion University.

Advanced Flat: 1. Tara Mathews, University of Connecticut. 2. Katie Diaz, West Chester University. 3. Danielle Moraski, Binghamton University. 4. Kayleigh Burke, Virginia Tech. 5. Ashton Phillips, Virginia Intermont College. 6. Tracy Perry, Colby Community College.

Seen here at 2015 IHSA Nationals, former Alfred University standout Lexi Buckheit won the advanced reining division on June 2nd. Buckheit also placed fifth in the advanced horsemanship division as well.

The June 2nd Western Class-By-Class Results (we are uncertain if the classes were held in the order listed here).

Alumni Horsemanship: 1. Catherine Lach, Ohio State University. 2. Kelsey Prosch - Jensen, Grand Valley State University. 3. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University. 4. Elizabeth Woznica, Alfred University. 5. Michelle Mohr, Tarleton State University. 6. Petra Szymkowicz, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Alumni Reining: 1. Kelsey Prosch - Jensen, Grand Valley State University. 2. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University. 3. Elizabeth Woznica, Alfred University. 4. Catherine Lach, Ohio State University. 5. Michelle Mohr, Tarleton State University. 6. Andrea LaManque, Morrisville State College.

Advanced Reining: 1. Lexi Buckheit, Alfred University. 2. Michelle McDowell, Grand Valley State University. 3. Elisabeth Bianco, Ohio State University. 4. Sarah Todak, Ohio University. 5. Amanda Belcher, Murray State University. 6. Kelsey O'Shea, Cornell University.

Advanced Horsemanship: 1. Elisabeth Bianco, Ohio State University. 2. Michelle McDowell, Grand Valley State University. 3. Kimberly Storey, University of Tennessee at Knoxville. 4. Meghan Ashbrook, Miami University of Ohio. 5. Lexi Buckheit, Alfred University. 6. Sarah Todak, Ohio University.

Western Future Alumni Cup (combined reining and rail phases): 1. Laura Zemaitis, Grand Valley State University. 2. Sarah Borgeit, University of Findlay.

Western Alumni Cup (combined reining and rail phases): 1. Catherine Lach, Ohio State University. 2. Elisabeth Bianco, Ohio State University. 3. Michelle McDowell, Grand Valley State University. 4. Kelsey Prosch - Jensen, Grand Valley State University. 5. Kimberly Storey, University of Tennessee at Knoxville. 6. Amanda Belcher, Murray State University. 7. Elizabeth Woznica, Alfred University. 8. Alison Rassinoux, University of Tennessee at Knoxville.


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