Despite their season being cut short due to the Corona virus Sequim’s WAHSET senior rider’s from left Hannah Kokoschka, Grace, Emma, Lilly all won medals for placing in the top three at the year end awards, plus both teams also won trophies for the Small Teams High Point award. PA champion and Sequim reserve champion. (Katie Newton)

Despite their season being cut short due to the Corona virus Sequim’s WAHSET senior rider’s from left Hannah Kokoschka, Grace, Emma, Lilly all won medals for placing in the top three at the year end awards, plus both teams also won trophies for the Small Teams High Point award. PA champion and Sequim reserve champion. (Katie Newton)

HORSEPLAY: High school equestrian championship dreams dashed

HAVE YOU HEARD the saying “Go big or go home?” I think all who participate on high school athletic teams dream of taking home the championship.

What if you never got the chance?

I think I speak for the majority when I say empathy abounds for those high school athletes whose dreams were quashed when schools closed, and all extracurricular activity and sports suspended, from March 13 to the end of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, dashed were the hopes and dreams of our high school equestrians who took part in Washington State High School Equestrians Team competitions, which consist of three, three-day qualifying district meets (the Olympic Peninsula is in District 4) and the state finals.

“Unfortunately, our equestrian teams only got to have one meet before we had to stop because of the coronavirus,” said Sequim head coach Katie Newton. “So, end-of-season awards were based on just the one meet instead of three.”

Sadly, there wasn’t a WAHSET state finals, either. Be it necessary, closures have proven to be a huge loss in too many ways to count, as well as a huge shift in the way we live.

Sequim’s 2020 equestrian team members were Hannah Kokoschka (senior), Grace Niemeyer (senior), Lexi King, Abby Garcia, Lilly Thomas (senior), Keri Tucker and Emma Albright (senior) with assistant coaches Bettina Hoesel, Hailie Newton and Sydney Balkan.

In my March 8 column, I mistakenly included Katie Adophsen and Ady Crosby as assistant coaches, too, but they helped out last year, not this year.

“It’s a very disappointing year for our seniors, but at least we had one meet before it hit,” Katie Newton said. “Happily, though, all four of our Sequim seniors got a medal in at least one event for the season.”

As for the Port Angeles team, they had a great first competition under the guidance of coach Liv Dietzman, but then her husband, who is an active-duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard, was transferred out of the area and they moved away. Assistant coach Shannon Robbins stepped in as head coach until the closures ended all school activities.

Robbins had planned to continue on as head coach for the 2021 season, but I recently spoke with her and she informed me she wasn’t going to be able to coach next year as she’s moving to Lynnwood — what a bummer for Port Angeles!

I sure hope someone who has an extensive background in the equine industry as Dietzman, Robbins and Newton steps up to take the reins of the PA team! By the way, PA is a co-op team composed of athletes from PAHS, Chimacum High School and home-schooling programs.

This year’s team members were Cassi Ann Moore (senior), Natalie Blankenship (senior), Ava Hairell and Natalie Martinez.

Dietzman wrote to tell me the first and only meet of the 2020 season had just the two seniors participating (she said they were a small team this year), Moore from Chimacum and Blankenship from Port Angeles.

She said this year’s WAHSET judges offered an option for smaller teams who had three or fewer competitors on the team to combine with a larger team for team events. The PA team joined the South Kitsap team for the meets. South Kitsap is also a co-op team with other high schools for some of the team events, at least until the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it’s extremely unfortunate that these kids, who had been working so hard and practicing since October 2019, had their season cut short,” Deitzman said.

“But I am truly grateful that we did get to at least have one meet. Our two seniors had a wonderful first meet and showed that, even with fewer kids on a team, you can still do well when you work hard and leave it all in the arena dirt — I love my PAHSET kids and am so very proud of them!”

For the season’s end results, WAHSET judges awarded both teams trophies for the Small Teams High Point — Port Angeles the champion and Sequim the reserve champion.

Sequim’s Lilly Thomas won the 2020 gold medal in the WAHSET driving event. (Katie Newton)

Sequim’s Lilly Thomas won the 2020 gold medal in the WAHSET driving event. (Katie Newton)

WAHSET District 4, 2020 Season Awards Medal Winners (1st Gold, 2nd Silver, 3rd Bronze):

In Hand Obstacle Relay: PA’s Cassi Ann Moore, Natalie Blankenship, silver medal.

Showmanship: PA’s Blankenship, silver medal.

Driving: Sequim’s Lilly Thomas, gold medal.

Hunt Seat Over Fences: Sequim’s Grace Niemeyer, gold medal.

Dressage: Sequim’s Hannah Kokoschka, silver medal.

Working Rancher: Blankenship, bronze medal.

Versatility: Port Angeles/South Kitsap Combo — Moore, Blankenship, Hailey Hebeisen, Shaylynn Vose, silver medal.

6 rider plus Drill Team: South Kitsap/PA Combo — Moore, Lauren Kelly, Ambyr Halfhill, Ryder Heistrom-Wilson, Lillian Taylor, Kaitlyn McKinsey, Patricia Lynch, Bridget Nighswonger, Elizabeth Nighwonger, Emeranzia Robinson, Sadie White, bronze medal.

Polebending: Moore, gold medal.

Figure 8: Sequim’s Emma Albright, gold medal.

Individual Flags: Moore, gold medal.

Two Man Birangle: South Kitsap/PA Team Combo — Moore, Taylor, bronze medal.

Canadian Flag Race: South Kitsap/PA Combo — Moore, Halfhill, Heistrom-Wilson, Taylor, silver medal.

Barrels: Moore, gold medal.

Breakaway Roping: Moore, bronze medal.

Team Sorting: Sequim’s Thomas, Keri Tucker, bronze medal.

Team High Points

• Large: Champion — South Kitsap

• Medium: Champion — Prairie, Reserve Champion — Evergreen United

• Small: Champion — Port Angeles (two years running), Reserve Champion — Sequim

• Individual High Point Timed Event Champion: Moore.

I, too, have been greatly impacted by the school closure as it’s now fallen on me to home school my high-strung grand-nephew Isaac, who turned seven last week. It’s a constant struggle because he is resolute his life should now only be about fun and games, with no rules, regulations or structure.

Did I mention he is a very intelligent, extremely sensitive and loud? I know I am not alone in this surreal struggle that surrounds us due to the pandemic as there are a great many parents struggling to school their children while everyone’s at home and there’s no end in sight? Yikes! It’s a good thing I love the boy dearly.

I am so very grateful we have good teachers and good schools to send youths to in our region. Thankfully, we also have guidelines, books to follow and lots of support from our local school systems to help us out during this time when everyone has to stay at home. I’d like to personally give a special shout-out of thanks to all teachers, but especially to Isaac’s first grade teacher at Helen Haller, Mrs. Rudzinski! But why stop there? I’d like to also thank Mrs. Corder, Helen Haller Vice Principal Mrs. Jefferson and his tutor Ms. Robin Hall with the Jamestown S’klallam Tribe for their personal interest in schooling Isaac.

At this point, I’m selfishly hoping schools reopen for summer school so I can put Isaac on the school bus and get some rest!


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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