After a historic second round on Friday, there was more history made on Saturday during the semifinals and championship meet of the 2017 NCEA Championship presented by the City of Waco and McLennan County.
For the first time under the current postseason format, the No. 1 seed wasn't present on the final day of competition. Now, in another first, a team has completed the difficult task of winning four meets in three days to claim the National Championship.
Texas A&M came into this year's championship seeded fifth, but the Aggies caught fire in the first round and stayed hot the entire weekend. Texas A&M defeated Delaware State in the first round and Oklahoma State in the second round by a combined score of 27-3 to cruise into the semifinals on Saturday.
Facing a TCU team in the semifinals that had upset No. 1 seed Baylor the previous day, the Aggies swept all four events en route to a 16-0 win over the Horned Frogs.
In an All-SEC championship final, the Aggies put together another impressive performance, defeating Georgia, 11-5, to capture their third National Championship.
"These girls were riding so consistently, and as a coach, that's all you can ask," Texas A&M head coach Tana McKay said. "These girls have been working so hard. We didn't have the best second half of the season, and they put in a lot of hours in practice and it paid off at the right time. We had a lot of momentum going into the National Championship after our first day. It was a team effort in and out of the arena."
As a fifth seed, the Aggies didn't have the luxury of a bye in the first round, but that didn't stop them from outscoring their four opponents, 55-8.
To get to the final against Georgia, the Aggies put together an absolute complete performance against TCU. Equitation over Fences and Thomas Moore Feed Reining took place simultaneously in the first half of the meet. In fences, all four A&M riders (Alex Desiderio, Haley Webster, Rachael Hake and Rebekah Chenelle) scored at least a 173 to sweep the event.
In the Thomas Moore Feed Reining arena, the rides were closer, but Texas A&M did enough to come out on top each time. Sarah McEntire edged out TCU's Brooke Boyle, Haley Franc defeated Carly Lombard and Madison Bohman picked up a win over Carly Montemuro. Sarah Kate Grider ended the sweep with a 3.5-point victory over Rylee Morgan.
Back on the Hunt Seat side of things, the Aggies had another extremely impressive performance in Equitation on the Flat. Maddie Swem, Anna Rea, Chenelle and Desiderio all won their rides over their TCU counterparts by at least 20 points.
In the final event of the day, Horsemanship, four more A&M riders added wins to their resumes. Avery Ellis, Sarah Orsak, Kaci Fisher and Bailey Cook were victorious to complete the 16-0 sweep over the Horned Frogs.
"They just stepped up to the plate when it counted," McKay said of her team.
The Aggies would face an extremely hot Georgia team in the National Championship. The Bulldogs were on a seven-meet winning streak entering the 2017 NCEA Championship presented by the City of Waco and McLennan County, and picked up a win over Fresno State on Friday to advance to the semifinals.
Facing Auburn, the defending national champion, Georgia found itself locked in a tight meet. Tied at four points apiece halfway through the meet, the Bulldogs were able to win four out of the next five points to steal the momentum. The Tigers fought back to make it 8-7, but Georgia's Liza Finsness won the final ride of the meet in Equitation on the Flat to preserve the Bulldog victory.
"It was another championship in all of our minds and hearts this morning," Georgia head coach Meghan Boenig said. "Tough rides, great competitors, and another time facing Auburn. Every time is equally as challenging."
The championship meet between Texas A&M and Georgia started in Equitation on the Flat, and the Aggies once again jumped out to a quick start. Rebekah Chenelle's event-high score of 186 defeated Meg O'Mara and Anna Rea made it 2-0 with a victory over Liza Finsness. Georgia would cut the lead in half when Addyson Cord defeated Maddie Swem. It would be 3-1 Aggies when Alex Desiderio came away with a 172-142 win over Maddie Newman.
Georgia was able to get another point back to start the next event, Horsemanship. Bailey Anderson won her ride against Texas A&M's Bailey Cook to make it 3-2. However, the Aggies would claim the next three points to hold a comfortable lead at the halfway point. Kaci Fisher beat Sammie Johnson by one point, Sarah Orsak's event-high score of 152.5 was just enough to get past Payton Anderson's 152 and Avery Ellis capped the 3-1 victory in Horsemanship with a victory over Graysen Stroud.
In the Thomas Moore Feed Reining arena, the Bulldogs once again won the first point when Lindsey Cheek defeated the Aggies' Sarah Kate Grider with an event-high score of 142. But Texas A&M ended things strongly once again, wrapping up the meet with three consecutive wins. Sarah McEntire knocked off Kyndall Harper and Madison Bohman added another win over Claudia Spreng to make it 8-3. Haley Franc clinched the overall win for the Aggies with a victory over Georgia's Stroud.
"I don't know that anyone has gone into the fourth event knowing they had it clinched," McKay said. "It's an extremely comforting feeling. But I was excited our girls still went out there and performed. It was just the consistency across the board that was the name of the game for the entire championships."
Georgia used wins by Finsness and O'Mara to take the first two points of the final event, Equitation over Fences. Texas A&M then capped off the victory with wins by Haley Webster and Rachael Hake.
With Texas A&M's victory over Georgia on Saturday, each SEC team has won a national title in the four years of the current format.
"It's like playing a National Championship every time we play them in the regular season," McKay said of the other SEC teams. "It only makes us better."
Obviously, Georgia wanted the championship meet to turn out differently, but Boenig was proud of her team's performance and the way they closed out the regular season and SEC Championships. It was the third time out of the four years in the current format that Georgia played in the National Championship meet.
"I think it says that there's a lot of things we're doing really well," Boenig said. "When you have that culture and that kind of involvement for the team, they will feel that (success) with the senior class on down every year."
For McKay and the Aggies, it was a dream come true. During a regular season in which it didn't have a winning streak longer than three meets, Texas A&M became the hottest team in the country at the perfect time and won four straight meets in convincing fashion to become national champs.
"It's the first one since we moved into the SEC, and that was a big adjustment for us," McKay said. "It means a lot. It's really exciting to see the athletes' hard work and the staff's hard work pay off."
2017 NCEA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AWARDS
Most Outstanding Player
Equitation on the Flat — Rebekah Chenelle, Texas A&M
Equitation Over Fences — Liza Finsness, Georgia
Horsemanship — Avery Ellis, Texas A&M
Reining — Sarah McIntire, Texas A&M
Most Valuable Horse
Equitation on the Flat — Bunni, Oklahoma State
Equitation Over Fences — Limelight, SMU
Horsemanship — Chili, Oklahoma State
Reining — Bueno, Oklahoma State
American Quarter Horse Association NCEA All-Championship TeamEquitation on the Flat
Rebekah Chenelle, Texas A&M
Alex Desiderio, Texas A&M
Meg O’Mara, Georgia
Anna Rea, Texas A&M
Equitation Over Fences
Rebekah Chenelle, Texas A&M
Liza Finsness, Georgia
Rachael Hake, Texas A&M
Haley Webster, Texas A&M
Bailey Anderson, Georgia
Avery Ellis, Texas A&M
Kaci Fisher, Texas A&M
Sarah Orsak, Texas A&M
Madison Bohman, Texas A&M
Lindsey Cheek, Georgia
Haley Franc, Texas A&M
Sarah McIntire, Texas A&M