If Rivals.com had an equestrian division, Emma Corvarrubias and Kathleen DeGenova would be five-star recruits.

The Middle Township High School seniors from Dennis Township, who are also best friends, are both ranked among the top riders in the country. They have signed national letters of intent to continue their equestrian careers at the Division I level in college. Covarrubia will be attending Baylor University in Waco, Texas while DeGenova is headed to University of Tennessee at Martin.

Both schools are among the top programs in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association. Baylor was ranked sixth during the regular season and reached the quarterfinals of the NCEA's national championship. UTM was ninth in the country and just missed earning a spot in the national tournament last month.

Their friendship got its start at Pembrook Farm in the Eldora section of Dennis Township.

Corvarrubia, 17, has actually been riding since before she was born. Her parents, Carlos and Chrissy Covarrubias, are both former equestrians. Chrissy and Emma's grandmother, Eleanor Robinson-Valtri, opened Pembrook Farm in 1994.

DeGenova, 18, also has roots in the sport. Her mother, Jennifer (Raab) DeGenova, is a former equestrian who competed for West Chester University and is still involved in the sport. Kathleen joined Emma at Pembrook as a youngster.

Both will compete in Jumping Seat as opposed to Western. Jumping Seat is generally featured in the Olympics and includes Fences and Flat divisions. Western includes Reigning and and Horsemanship. Mannetta McAvaddy, a Buena Regional High School graduate from Vineland, competes in Western for UT-Martin.

"It's mainly because we both like to jump," Emma said.

They do appreciate other segments of the horse industry, however.

Both attended Kentucky Derby parties last Saturday and cheered when 80-1 longshot Rich Strike stormed from behind to win the race.
Chrissy Corvarrubias had an insiders insight of the race, having spent a summer in the mid-1990s working as an exercise rider at Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing.

"Oh my gosh, what a race!" Chrissy said. "And what a great story. Racing needed that."
Because there are no high school equestrian programs in the area, Emma and Kathleen developed and honed their skills in various regional and national shows that typically feature amateur and professional level divisions.

Think AAU basketball or Perfect Game baseball.

"After my sophomore year at Middle, I started contacting colleges and sending them videos of me riding," Emma said. "I didn't get to visit the schools because of Covid, then Baylor's (Jumping Seat) coach resigned. But I finally got to visit in August and the new coach (Grace Bridges) was very interested and I committed in October."

Emma was one of eight recruits to sign binding national letters of intent with Baylor.

This season, Bears head coach Casie Maxwell had 60 riders on the equestrian teams. They went 7-7 in the regular season to qualify for the eight-team NCEA national tournament at the National Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida before losing to top-ranked Texas A&M 13-6 in the quarterfinals. Oklahoma State won the championship.

Kathleen took a different route to Tennessee-Martin.

"I was at a horse show in Kentucky last fall and ran into the coaches," Kathleen said. "I drove to visit the school and loved it. I'm very grateful to get the opportunity."

The Skyhawks, which featured 32 riders this season, were 8-8 and placed second in the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships (ECAC) in Harrington, Delaware.
Emma and Kathleen plan to compete this spring and summer while also working summer jobs.
Emma will be helping out a farm in North Jersey while Kathleen will be working at Chocolate Face Cupcake and Brownie in Cape May Court House.

Then the friends will become rivals.

Baylor beat Tennessee-Martin 14-6 last September.

"It's going to be interesting next year," DeGenova said with a laugh. "We've been friends forever and now we'll be going against each other."

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