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Georgia junior Maddy Darst and Jake canter through their jump course to finish with a score of 77 earning a point for UGA after Texas A&M rider Haley Redifer completed her round on Jake with a 64. No. 8 UGA hosted No. 2 Texas A&M on Feb. 9th, 2019 at the University of Georgia Equestrian Complex in Bishop, Georgia; after a neck and neck battle between the two teams for most of the meet, the Bulldogs gained the lead and won with a final score of 12-8. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean)

For senior Noelle Pinckney, the upcoming equestrian season means a chance to be a role model for the freshmen on the team, as well as an opportunity for redemption.

After losing to Auburn in the 2019 National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) Championship Final, members of the equestrian team were left feeling unsatisfied.

“We came so close to a national championship, so I think there were a lot of people on the team that were left wanting more,” Pinckney said. “We all have the same vision, we all want a national championship this year.”

With a preseason ranking of third in the country and a class of 13 freshman joining the team, Georgia is confident about its chances. 

However, Pinckney sees the upcoming season — which starts on Sept. 27 against Sweet Briar — as more than just an opportunity to win. Pinckney and the rest of the seniors have a new set of responsibilities in developing younger riders.

“For the freshman coming in, being new to the team can be a lot to take on, so they really look up to us a lot,” Pinckney said. “We have to make sure we are on top of everything when it comes to helping the freshman, but it’s cool seeing how we can not only be role models, but also really good friends.”

The seniors’ efforts in developing a bond with the incoming freshmen have not gone unnoticed. Freshman Mckenzie Aebi has been especially appreciative of having seniors on the team as role models. Aebi came to the Georgia from Dhahian, Saudi Arabia, and said adjusting to her new surroundings has taken some time.

“Every barn is different and every team is different, so getting to know the dynamic of everything while at the same time trying to fit in time for homework has been the hardest part,” Aebi said. “The seniors have been really helpful, especially our captains. They have been really influential on me.”

Pinckney takes much of her inspiration on how to be a role model from Emma Mandarino, a good friend and former teammate. Mandarino was recently announced as a finalist for the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year Award and also earned a spot on the NCEA All-Academic First Teams in 2016 and 2017.

“Emma has always encouraged me and been there for me through everything,” Pinckney said. “Whether it was introducing me to people on the team or just checking on me and seeing how I was doing, she went out of her way to make sure everyone was doing their best.”

Pinckney will try to be what Mandarino was to her for the new class of freshmen. But more than anything, Pinckney just wants the season to start.

“We are all looking forward to the season and are excited for what it will bring, especially with the new freshmen coming in,” Pinckney said. “We all can’t wait to see everyone competing."

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