As 12 teams from around the country converge on Waco, Texas for the NCEA National Championship from April 13-15, there are fans who are making travel plans to see their team play for a title.
Of course, there are a lot of equestrian fans who have already visited Waco, but there are sure to be others who are wondering what to do while in town for the championship.
Luckily for everyone, there's plenty to do in the Texas city located about halfway between Dallas and Austin.
For history buffs, they can visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum or the Dr. Pepper museum, or they can also take a trolley tour of downtown Waco. One of those tours just might go by Magnolia Market, owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines, the stars of the hit TV show, "Fixer Upper."
There's also plenty of shopping around the area, a zoo, and a downtown farmers market.
"People are usually shocked when they see how many things we have," said Susan Morton, the tourism manager for the City of Waco. "In fact, one of the comments we hear a lot is, 'I'm going to have to come back, I didn't know you had all of this.'"
Waco is situated along the Brazos River, which offers plenty of activities. You can rent paddle boards and canoes, and there are also food trucks situated along the river where you can get a bite to eat. Morton's office is located by the river and a park, and one of her favorite things to do is to watch both visitors and locals enjoy the scenery around the river, whether it's walking your dog or taking in the view around the area.
The NCEA National Championship will once again be held at the Extraco Events Center in Waco, and it's something every collegiate equestrian coach looks forward to.
"We're really lucky that the city of Waco, McLennan County and Extraco Events Center staff really go the extra mile to make it a nice event for our student-athletes," SMU head coach Carol Gwin said. "I'm just grateful that we have such a great facility to host this at. Kudos to Baylor for putting it on. They provide all the staff. We basically just show up."
Baylor head coach Ellen White knows firsthand how great the city of Waco is, and she enjoys seeing all of the attention that comes to the city when the equestrian world converges on Extraco Events Center.
"It's fun for us because it's the first time we're competing at the collegiate events that we (get to) decorate stalls and bring all the horses in and we're all in one place," White said. "It's fun to see everyone in one place. We go to different events together."
The NCEA National Championship begins on Thursday, April 13 with the first round and the second round takes place on Friday, April 14. The semifinals and national championship meet will be held on Saturday, April 15. The experience of watching the events in person is reason enough to make the trip to Texas. With so much on the line, the competitions are fierce and exciting.
What makes it even better is all of the other different things you can do while in town. Waco's location allows it to be a popular destination for all kinds of events.
"We're really centrally located in the state, so we get a lot of state events," Morton said. "But as far as the NCEA, that brings a lot of people from out of state too, so we get more new eyes on our city that we get to show off."
There's just so much to do around Waco, so make sure you check out as much as possible when you visit for the NCEA National Championship!
Auburn is the defending NCEA champion. Since the first NCEA Championship in 2002, Georgia has won the most titles with six, followed by Auburn (4), South Carolina (3), and Texas A&M (2). Meet times will be announced at a later date.
NCEA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PAIRINGS
Thursday, April 13, 9 a.m. CT Start — Round 1
(5) Texas A&M vs. (12) Delaware State
(6) South Carolina vs. (11) South Dakota State
(7) Fresno State vs. (10) New Mexico State
(8) SMU vs. (9) TCU
Friday, April 14, 9 a.m. CT Start — Quarterfinals
(1) Baylor vs. 8/9 Winner
(2) Georgia vs. 7/10 Winner
(3) Auburn vs. 6/11 Winner
(4) Oklahoma State vs. 5/12 Winner
Saturday, April 15, 8:30 a.m. CT Start — Semifinals/Championship
Magnolia Market website link:
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum website link:
Dr. Pepper museum website link:
Cameron Park Zoo website link:
Waco downtown Farmers Market website link: