Tuesday, January 17, 2017 | by Kyle Heck |

Ever since the NCEA format was changed to recognize one overall national champion in 2014, the championship has been won by three different SEC teams. The league is obviously a strong one, and that did not change this past fall.

Texas A&M had an impressive fall with just one loss, which came on a tiebreaker, and are tied with the defending national champion, Auburn, atop the SEC standings at the halfway point. Both Georgia and South Carolina are just behind those two teams in an incredibly close competition.

All four SEC teams are within one game of each other in the conference standings, and within two games of each other in the overall records.

Texas A&M began the season ranked No. 4 in the NCEA rankings, but quickly jumped to No. 1 with road wins over Tennessee-Martin and South Carolina. In fact, the Aggies' first four meets were all on the road, and the only loss over that stretch came in a tiebreaker at Auburn. Texas A&M would then wrap up its fall with victories over Georgia and Delaware State at home to keep the No. 1 ranking.

"I think we finally have gotten to the point where we've found some pretty good consistency across the board in all four events," Aggie head coach Tana McKay said. "We've historically been stronger on the western side, and I think we've found some good consistency on the hunt seat side, which has helped us."

At 4-2, 2-1 SEC, Auburn is keeping pace with Texas A&M, and are still very much a dangerous team to watch out for in the fall. There are several pivotal pieces back from last year's title-winning team, and head coach Greg Williams has had new players step up as well, like freshman Kara Kaufmann (4-0 Horsemanship record).

"They've been doing really well," Williams said of his team. "If you look at like a Kara Kaufmann going into the second half undefeated as a freshman, that's huge."

As the defending champion, other teams naturally circle the Tigers when they come up on the schedule, but Williams has been pleased with how his girls have handled the pressure so far.

"The attitudes are good," Williams said. "Everything is going well with the team. We haven't put together the kind of rides I think we're going to be doing in the springtime so I think we're in a great position right now."

After starting the season with a loss at South Carolina, Georgia reeled off two straight wins before falling at Texas A&M. Needing a win in the SEC to keep pace, the No. 4 Bulldogs responded with an impressive home victory over Auburn on Nov. 11. On the Hunt Seat side, Meg O'Mara has a combined 13 wins while Graysen Stroud leads the Western unit with 10 wins.

At 4-3, 1-2 SEC, the Bulldogs still have a meet each remaining with the three other league
teams in the spring. However, Georgia has tough nonconference matchups at Baylor and Fresno State, as well as a home meet against Delaware State.

South Carolina finished the fall with a 3-3 overall record, and are tied with the Bulldogs with a 1-2 league mark. The Gamecocks wrapped up the fall with a difficult two-meet stretch at Fresno State and Auburn, dropping both contests. However, South Carolina already has impressive wins over Baylor and Georgia, and will be right in the thick of things in the spring. Chloe Schmidt leads the Gamecocks with seven wins in Hunt Seat competition, and freshman Caroline Gute has been one of the most impressive newcomers in the country with a 4-0-1 record in Reining.

The challenge for all four SEC teams, as well as every other team in the country for that matter, is to keep the momentum going when spring competition begins. There has been a long layoff since the fall ended, and the spring is much too important to deal with a slow start.

"That's always the tough part," McKay said. "As coaches, we talk to the kids about things they need to concentrate on over the break. Everyone needs a mental break anyway because it's a long season, but we just talked about our goals and where we wanted to start. We want to hit the ground running."

Southeastern Conference Standings
1. Texas A&M- 5-1, 2-1 SEC
2. Auburn- 4-2, 2-1 SEC
3. Georgia- 4-3, 1-2 SEC
4. South Carolina- 3-3, 1-2 SEC

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