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Team sends three to Nationals

Alicia Smith | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

After accumulating points throughout the year, three members of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College equestrian team qualified for the National Competition which will begin today.

Notre Dame senior Alexandra Minnis, Notre Dame junior Jennifer Gilardi and Saint Mary’s sophomore Celina Tolson placed high enough at the qualifying competition to make it to Nationals.

“The Zone Championships were really great. We had four riders going into the day, and three ended up making it on to Nationals with two first places and one second place. Our fourth rider just missed Nationals with a third place,” Minnis said.

According to Minnis, each year, riders compete in 10 competitions. Tolson added that throughout these competitions riders must earn 35 points to qualify for Regionals.

At Regionals, competitors must place in the top two of their riding class to qualify for Zones. In order to qualify for Nationals, the competitors needed to place in the top two in their class at the Zones competition. There are nine Zones that compete in the National Competition with two riders from each class. Minnis and Tolson placed first in their classes. Gilardi placed second in hers.

Minnis has been a member of the team for four years, and is currently captain of her class.

“I am competing in Open Fences,” Minnis said. “There are three jumping divisions based on a rider’s experience: Novice, Intermediate and Open, in increasing level of experience.”

This is the first year Tolson has been a member of the team, although she previously competed with the University of Cincinnati’s team. Tolson will compete in Walk-Trot-Canter at Nationals.

“I’m excited,” Tolson said. “I don’t know if it’s actually hit me yet. I was really excited when I won my class at Zones, and that was really exciting because my family was all there and everything. It won’t really hit me I don’t think until we’re actually in Tennessee on Wednesday. I’m really excited to go. I think it will be a lot of fun.”

Gilardi will be competing in the Intermediate Flat division. As a three-year member, Gilardi enjoys competing with the team.

“My favorite part about being on the team is the friendship and camaraderie between team members. We have so much fun at horse shows riding, and cheering each other on. We all want to do well and win, obviously, but its all really laid back and fun instead of being pressure-filled and stressful,” she said.

There are only 18 riders in the county attending Nationals, Gilardi said.

“I’m really excited to be going to Nationals. It’s a goal that so many intercollegiate riders have as they compete throughout the year, so to accomplish it and be one of the 18 riders throughout the country to qualify in my division and compete at Nationals is a huge honor,” Gilardi said.

The riders will be leaving today. The National competition will be held in Murfreesboro, Tenn. April 23 to 26.