By: Kyle Heck
No. 6 seed TCU was able to fight its way all the way into the National Championship meet on Saturday, April 16, but in the end, it was No. 1 seed Auburn that was able to hold on for an 8-7 win for the Tigers' first National Championship since 2013.
With all-SEC finals the first two years under the current format of scoring, the Horned Frogs crashed the party with a 10-5 upset victory over Georgia in the semifinal meet earlier in the day. TCU became the lowest seed to make the National Championship meet under the current format with its win.
After winning their quarterfinal meet by 14 points, the Tigers found themselves in a much closer meet against Texas A&M in the semifinals. However, Auburn was able to get the job done and advanced to the final meet with a 10-6 victory over the Aggies.
Auburn trailed TCU, 5-3, at the halfway point of the National Championship meet, but the Tigers used a 4-0 sweep in Equitation on the Flat to pull in front.
"This team has been so unbelievably close," Auburn head coach Greg Williams said. "And what they proved out there and the foundation they've laid for the future, I wanted this championship so bad for this team. It was incredible."
The meet started in Equitation over Fences, where both teams came out with strong rides. TCU's Molly Peddicord began things with a 167-155 win over Auburn's Elizabeth Benson. The Tigers would provide an emphatic answer as Caitlin Boyle's event-high score of 174 defeated Horned Frog rider Nikki Diamantis by 44 points. TCU retook the early lead when Carley Barnett knocked off Auburn rider Hayley Iannotti, 168-165, but the Tigers would pull back even with a 171-130 win by Ashton Alexander over TCU's Jayme Omand.
The Horned Frogs would use a strong performance in Horsemanship to take the lead at the halfway point. Erin Gillette started it with an event-high score, defeating Auburn's Lauren Diaz, 155.5-149, and after Hannah Loseke got the Tigers a point back with a 152.5-147 win over TCU's Marah Huston, the Horned Frogs would become the first team in the meet to put together consecutive points. Rylee Morgan knocked off Griffin Knight, 150-148.5, and Megan McMullen capped the event with a 151.5-146 victory over Tiger rider Hannah Stephens to give TCU a 5-3 lead with just two events left in the meet.
Auburn showed why it came in as the top-ranked team in the country in the next event, Equitation on the Flat. Boyle would beat Omand, 148-140, to pick up her second win of the meet and trim the Horned Frog lead to one point before Alexander tied the meet up and got win No. 2 as well with a 160-142 victory over Kari Hancock. The Tigers would keep the ball rolling when Ashley Foster dispatched Peddicord, 156-148. Benson would complete the Equitation on the Flat sweep with an event-high score of 179, which beat Diamantis by 13 points, and Auburn took a 7-5 lead into the final event, Reining.
"We've been in some tight ones before so I felt fully confident and our flat is just so unbelievably great that I felt like they could gain a bunch of points, and I figured our Reining (team) could finish it off," Williams said.
"We just knew that this was halfway and anything can happen," Boyle added. "So whatever happened, we can get back the points that we lost and we wanted to take what we wanted to call ours. This team really does a great job at pushing through even when it's tough and when we have a lot of pressure, everyone does a great, great job at putting in clean rides and getting points."
The Horned Frogs would do all they could to complete a comeback, but in the end, the
Tigers were just too strong. Blair McFarlin squeezed by Hunter De Jane, 138-137.5, to put Auburn up, 8-5. TCU would stay alive when Meloney Morris defeated Knight, 138.5-134.5. However, Hailey Munger would tie Horned Frog rider Brooke Boyle as both put up a score of 142, and that was enough to clinch the National Championship-winning meet for the Tigers. TCU's Chantz Stewart would win the final point over Alexa Rivard to make it an 8-7 final score.
In addition to capturing the National Championship, the Tigers were also the SEC Champions this season as well.
"That's an extra treat," Williams said. "Nobody that's ever won the SEC has also turned around and won the National Championship. It goes to show how stiff the competition is and how difficult it is to keep everything lining up and everybody hitting on all cylinders at the same time."