WACO, Texas - No. 3 South Carolina upset No. 1 Georgia, 10-6, on Saturday to win the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) National Championship. It marks the Gamecocks' third national title in program history, and South Carolina finishes the 2014-15 season with a 12-5 record.
The Gamecocks defeated United Equestrian Conference champion Fresno State, Big 12 Champion Baylor, and SEC Champion Georgia in a span of 36 hours to win this year's championship
"What an outstanding day, words don't begin to describe how proud I am of this team," South Carolina head coach Boo Major said. "I have to give all of the credit to the girls because they came to Texas with the goal of winning a national title, and they did every single thing they needed to do to make it happen. Hats off to Georgia on a great season and for their SEC Championship, I thought they rode well all weekend. This is a great moment for our program, and to send our seniors off with four championship rings, that's quite an accomplishment. I'm very grateful to have the support of Dr. Pastides and coach Tanner who are tremendous supporters of our student-athletes and our equestrian program. We're excited to bring the trophy back to Columbia and share it with all of our Gamecock fans."
In the first event of Saturday's championship, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs won two points apiece in equitation on the flat. Georgia took a 1-0 lead after winning the first point of the meet, marking the one and only time the Bulldogs held the lead in the championship. Seniors Adele Norton and Amber Henter made the most of their final competition as Gamecocks, winning back-to-back points to give Carolina a 2-1 lead. Henter knocked off Leylan Gleeson, 177-168, while Norton followed with a 165-134 win over Liza Finsness.
"Splitting the flat was actually a great start for us today," Major said. "After seeing Georgia in the quarterfinals and semifinals, we knew they'd be on their A-game, so it was important for us to get out of the flat with two points. I actually thought all of our flat riders rode well enough to win and was pleased with their performance all weekend."
In the western arena, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs both won two points each in horsemanship as the two teams were deadlocked, 4-4, at the halfway point. Junior Abigail Pait opened the horsemanship with a 146.5-137.5 win over Rachel Kolb to give Carolina a 3-2 lead. Senior western captain Sam Chiodo extended the Gamecocks' lead to 4-2 when she posted an event-high score 150 to knock off Georgia's Bailey Anderson by 3.5 points in her final competition. The Bulldogs won the final two horsemanship to even the score at four apiece.
"Abigail and Sam were fantastic for us," Major said. "As a whole, our horsemanship riders were great all weekend and that's a group I think we are especially proud of. Coach Sorrel has mixed up that lineup throughout the season and they've continued to get better all season and I think Sam being an experienced leader and team captain helped a lot with that."
South Carolina dominated Georgia in the jumping arena, winning 3-of-4 points to take a 7-5 lead. Samantha Smith won the first jumping point, defeating Kylee Arbuckle, 176-168. Henter followed and in her final ride as a Gamecock, beat Liza Finsness, 172-157 to give South Carolina a 6-4 lead. Georgia won the next point, but redshirt sophomore Sydney Smith knocked off Bulldog rider Meg O'Mara, 147-132, to give the Gamecocks a two point lead heading into the final event of the day.
"I thought that set the tone for us, especially in the reining," Major said. "Our jumping team has been great all season and coach Dobbs has always had those girls ready to ride. I think they knew we'd need them to be strong all weekend long, and they certainly delivered."
The Gamecocks wasted no time putting Georgia away in the reining, winning the event, 3-1, to knock off the defending SEC and national champion Bulldogs. Georgia won the first point to cut the Gamecocks' lead to one point, but Carolina went on to win the final three points to secure the championship victory. In her final ride as a Gamecock, senior Layla Choate beat Kyndall Harper, 137.5-135.5. Fellow senior Cody McMillion rode next and in her final ride as a Gamecock, posted the highest reining score in the championship meet, knocking off Lauren Garmon, 138-129.5. Holding an 8-6 lead and needing one point or a tie to win the meet, junior Sarah Bouchard dropped Georgia's Lauren Tieche, 136.5-128, to clinch the championship for South Carolina.
"Our reining team has been waiting since last year's championship for this moment, and they really made it count today," Major said. "Dr. Pastides and coach Tanner sent us some words of encouragement right as the meet was close, and that definitely gave us a nice confidence boost and fired the girls up. We got to send Layla and Cody out with wins, and for Sarah Bouchard to clinch the meet for us - I think that was a fitting way to win the championship."
2015 NCEA Championship Awards
Most Outstanding Performers
Equitation Over Fences: Sam Schaefer, Baylor
Equitation On The Flat: Meg O’Mara, Georgia
Horsemanship: Sara Parr, Georgia
Reining: Layla Choate, South Carolina
Equitation Over Fences
Elizabeth Benson, Auburn
Amber Henter, South Carolina
Sam Schaefer, Baylor
Demi Stiegler, Auburn
Equitation On The Flat
Elizabeth Benson, Auburn
Adele Norton, South Carolina
Meg O’Mara, Georgia
Demi Stiegler, Auburn
Mary Brown, Baylor
Sam Chiodo, South Carolina
Sara Parr, Georgia
Paige Stawicki, Georgia
Layla Choate, South Carolina
Katsy Leeman, Auburn
Cody McMillion, South Carolina
Alexa Rivard, Auburn