March 18, 2014
Editor's note: This article also appears on the Big 12 website, click here.
by Ricardo Cruz, Big 12 Campus Correspondent
MANHATTAN, Kan. - October 15, 2010 will always be a memorable date for the Kansas State equestrian program. It marks the day when senior Hunter Seat rider Rachel Webster earned her first career win at K-State and began one of the most successful careers in program history and made a lasting impact on a rising program.
Hailing from Mechanicsville, Va., Webster never would have imagined that she would travel from the East Coast to the Midwest to continue her riding career.
"When I was given the opportunity to visit K-State I had no idea what to expect," said Webster. "I could not believe I was visiting a school over 1,000 miles away from home. When I got here I knew immediately that I could call it my home away from home."
Little did she know that the decision to attend K-State would change the course of an entire program.
One of the big challenges for freshman riders entering a program is getting use to a team format. Many riders usually compete on an individual basis and may have a hard time transitioning to a team.
"Riding at the collegiate level and riding personally before college are vastly different," said Webster. "When I first came to school here I had no idea what to expect because I had never really been on a "team" before."
Traveling halfway across the country and beginning your college career so far away from home can be a complete culture shock. Luckily for Webster, she instantly created a lifelong friendship with fellow freshman Cat Avolese, who would help her to not only become a great rider, but a better person as well.
"Rachel and I clicked from the very beginning as freshmen," said Avolese. "I think it is clear to both Rachel and myself that we have grown in our friendship as the years went on here at K-State because of our passion to also help each other grow."
Entering her first year, Webster was counted on upon to help the Wildcats right away. She used her freshman year to get acclimated to the collegiate format. She ended her freshman campaign with a 5-10 record while earning two Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors.
During her sophomore season, Webster continued to improve and earned more confidence in herself. Her tireless training showed as she finished the 2011-12 season with a 9-13 record and two more MVP honors. She also earned several academic honors.
It was the start of her junior year that saw Webster come into her own and take that next step to becoming a great rider.
Her teammates saw the confidence that Webster inspired in everyone and elected her as one of four team captains. She helped lead a strong Hunt Seat team that dominated opponents and racked up an incredible 23-11 record and seven Most Outstanding Player (MOP) awards.
Webster was rewarded for her outstanding by season by being names an NCEA All-American, an All-Big 12 selection, and winning a conference Rider of the Month honor. She was also selected to compete at the WEF Collegiate Equitation Challenge.
Webster took that momentum and has continued it into her senior year. So far this season, she has earned another milestone win when she collected her 50th career victory. It was also the second straight season that she was chosen to travel to Wellington, Fla., to compete at the Collegiate Equestrian Challenge at WEF.
"WEF is a great way to showcase our sport at the collegiate level and I am very humbled and honored that my coaches chose me to represent K-State these last two years," said Webster. "I was so proud to represent this incredible team and I was thankful for all the support my teammates and coaches gave me."
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Head coach Casie Maxwell knew that Webster was the perfect selection to send for two straight seasons.
"Selecting her to represent K-State two years in a row at WEF is a reflection of Rachel's consistency, hard work, and commitment in and out of the arena," said Maxwell. "It is a special, `extra' event and we always want to take someone who is going above and beyond what is expected of them."
Despite all of the improvements that Webster has made as a rider, the biggest growth has been in her confidence.
"Rachel has made such amazing improvements in her riding and confidence from freshman to senior year," said Avolese. "Rachel, as a freshman, was young and just starting to get a good grasp on what the collegiate type of riding required just like all of us freshmen had to go through. Every year Rachel continued to grow in her confidence and in her leadership as well."
Maxwell could not be any more pleased to see Webster grow in confidence.
"The biggest improvement from Rachel over the past four years has been her confidence in herself," said Maxwell. "She was well trained and had a lot of great experience coming into the program, but her comfort level in this format has dramatically increased."
When it is all said and done, Webster may go down as one of the best riders to ever compete for the K-State equestrian program. With everything she has accomplished up to this point, it would be hard to find another rider who has the same resume.
"She has overcome physical struggles to keep herself in the arena and also taken the coaching changes within the Hunter Seat team gracefully," said Maxwell. "What she has accomplished in the arena, in addition to maintaining excellent academics, speaks volumes about who she is as a person. I am proud to have her go down in our history books."
But even with all of her personal and individual accolades, Webster is always quick to focus on her team and the job they have done to help get her to such a high level.
"I hope that I have made an impact as a leader for our freshman and incoming class to carry on the leadership and dedication that our great senior class has," said Webster. "I know I would not be the rider I am today without the support of all my teammates and coaches along the way. A team is a very special thing to be a part of and I am so glad I chose to be a part of this one."