Four of the 12 teams present at the 2017 NCEA National Championships will do a lot of watching from the sideline during the first round on Thursday. Baylor, Georgia, Auburn and Oklahoma State did enough during the regular season to earn one of the top four seeds for the tournament. That gives those teams a bye into the second round on Friday.
It doesn't always mean the difference between a win and a loss, but it does mean those four teams have one less meet to win in the quest for a National Championship. A spot in the semifinals on Saturday is on the line, so there is sure to be a lot of drama as usual.
Thanks to a 12-4 overall, 5-1 Big 12 record, the Baylor Bears claimed the top seed for this year's NCEA National Championship. After a strong regular season, Baylor knocked off TCU and Oklahoma State to claim its second Big 12 title in three years.
The end of the regular season couldn't have been more heartbreaking for the Bears. They lost not one, but two meets on a tiebreaker to close things out. However, heading into the Big 12 tournament, head coach Ellen White was confident in her team.
"I think it's actually good because it made them realize that they need to sharpen up a little bit, but it hasn't been an outstanding defeat so they're not like, 'Oh my, we can't ever recover,'" White said.
As it turned out, she was exactly right as Baylor put together two quality performances in the conference tournament. The Bears were a three seed last season at nationals, but were upset by TCU in their first meet. This season, Baylor will face the winner of SMU-TCU.
Georgia was able to claim the No. 2 seed with an 11-4 overall record and SEC Championship, its second in three years as well. The Bulldogs have more national titles than any other team, and once again carries a very talented team into nationals.
Auburn hosted the SEC Championships, but Georgia pulled off an impressive win in the final against the Tigers to take home the championship.
"We learned a lot from our early season losses," head coach Meghan Boenig said afterward. "That was our third meet against Auburn, and we knew what we needed to do to get it accomplished."
Georgia could be the hottest team in the field as it has won seven consecutive meets entering the NCEA National Championships. The Bulldogs will face the winner of Fresno State-New Mexico State.
Auburn is the No. 3 seed this year and the defending national champions. The Tigers made it through the tournament last season as the No. 1 seed, and brought a lot of talent back.
Head coach Greg Williams said it took a few meets for his team to get in rhythm this season, but Auburn put together five consecutive wins before the close loss to Georgia in the SEC final.
Williams is happy with how his team is performing, and they are just ready to get out on the pitch.
"What's been fun to me is to watch this team find it's own identity and not just try to live off last year," Auburn head coach Greg Williams said. "We knew they had the talent, they just had to get into that identity. They're all riding, top to bottom, extremely well right now."
Auburn will face the winner of South Carolina-South Dakota State on Friday.
Continuing the theme on the top four seeds, fourth-seeded Oklahoma State has also been riding well late in the season. The Cowgirls entered the Big 12 tournament with four straight wins, and defeated TCU to make it to the final against Baylor. The host Bears came out with the victory, but Oklahoma State was able to still claim a top-four spot.
"I really think the team is peaking going into the postseason," Oklahoma State head coach Larry Sanchez said. "That's what you hope for as a coach, is that they're going to bring it together at this time of year. I feel like my team is right on track for what I hoped would happen."
Sanchez has been particularly pleased with the way his team has stuck together through the ups and downs of the season. The girls care as much about their teammates' rides as they do their own.
"They care about the success of their teammates," Sanchez said. "To me, that's what it's all about."
Oklahoma State will take on the winner of Texas A&M-Delaware State.