By: Kyle Heck
When the first round of the 2016 NCEA National Championship gets started on Thursday, April 14, it's possible there could be a little bit of déja vu going around Extraco Events Center in Waco, Texas, the site of the championship.
All four of the first-round pairings are rematches from earlier in the season, meaning there will be a lot of familiar faces, logos and names. Having faced an opponent earlier in the season can sometimes help with preparation and confidence levels, depending on whether you won that first meeting or even just played a strong meet against that opponent regardless of outcome.
"We're playing TCU, which we're ready for," New Mexico State head coach Robin Walters said. "We played them really early in the fall. They were actually our first road meet that we had. We lost to them overall, but had a really strong showing in certain meets."
With that said, Walters and the other coaches know it's not as simple as that, especially in the sport of equestrian. In nearly every instance, the first matchup came at some point during the fall, which was months ago. In addition, the stage this time around will be quite a bit bigger with a National Championship hanging in the balance.
"We're at completely different points in our season," Kansas State head coach Casie Maxwell said of Delaware State, who the Wildcats will face in the first round after defeating the Hornets in November. "Everybody's got more practice time on them and we're in a totally different environment. We've got to come out and make sure we're competing at our highest level and definitely give it all we have in that first round."
In addition, there will be no definite "home-court advantage," so to speak. During the regular season, home teams get to use their own horses while the road team does not. However, during the National Championship, it's an even playing field for everyone.
There is one matchup in the first round where the familiarity could play a bigger role than in the other meets. No. 7 seed South Carolina, the defending NCEA National Champions, will battle No. 10 seed SMU for the third time this season. The two teams split a pair of regular-season meets, the last of which came just over a month ago. In addition, SMU head coach Carol Gwin is a former assistant at South Carolina, which adds an extra twist.
"It'll be interesting," South Carolina head coach Boo Major said. "If we had lost to them twice, we might be a lot more nervous. If we had beat them twice, we might be a lot less nervous, so I think for us, it's just really getting out there again."
While there are certainly things all eight teams in the first round can take away from previous meetings with one another, there is one common theme that stands out to all of the coaches - don't put too much stock in the past because the team that will come out on top at the National Championship will be the one that performs best when it matters most in Waco.
"The riders, their job is to perform on that particular horse that they've drawn to the best of their ability and the best of the horse's ability," Texas A&M head coach Tana McKay said. "Totally different ballgame riding different horses. Every team is working really hard knowing what's at stake in the championship."
Round 1 - April 14, 8:30 a.m. CT (date, results of previous meetings)
(5) Texas A&M vs. (12) Fresno State (Oct. 24, 2015, Aggies win at Fresno State, 9-9 on tiebreaker)
(6) TCU vs. (11) New Mexico State (Oct. 8, 2015, TCU wins at home against NMSU, 12-5)
(7) South Carolina vs. (10) SMU (Nov. 7, 2015, SMU defeats SC at home, 11-9; March 4, SC defeats SMU, 8-7, at Delaware State)
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) Delaware State (Nov. 22, 2015, Kansas State wins at Delaware State, 11-5)