NCEA Equestrian start of the season update
October 8, 2017
All around the country, teams are quickly finding out how much has changed since April. A new season of collegiate equestrian is here, and with it come exciting new changes that will redefine both the regular season and the postseason.
In an effort to provide more inclusive opportunities for national titles, there will no longer be just one national championship handed out at the end of competition in Waco, Texas. National titles are now available in the four events (Equitation on the Flat, Equitation Over Fences, Horsemanship and Reining) as well as team titles in the two disciplines (Hunt Seat and Western).
Now, instead of requiring an entire team to qualify for nationals, schools may qualify for titles in the separate events, meaning the field just became a whole lot bigger.
But before we look too far down the road, there’s an entire regular season that has to play out. Here, we’ll take a quick look around the country at the different conferences.
We first must start with the defending national champions, Texas A&M. The Aggies entered last year’s national championship seeded fifth, but caught fire in historic fashion. They became the first team in history to win four meets in three days at nationals, outscoring those four opponents, 55-8.
Texas A&M returns four NCEA All-Americans from that national title team. The group is headlined by Avery Ellis, the 2016-17 NCEA Horsemanship Rider of the Year after compiling a 13-4-1 record as a junior.
“The girls are still on a high,” Texas A&M head coach Tana McKay said. “They actually just got their championship rings. But they know it’s time to start over from scratch. We’ve got a good base of returning upperclassmen and a pretty good base of some underclassmen that are going to step in and compete for us.”
As McKay mentioned, she has the enviable task of trying to find spots for so many talented riders. The new riders will push the veterans, but that leadership and experience is vital as well.
“It’s tough,” McKay said of balancing young and old. “At the end of the day as coaches, we’re looking for the most consistent riders across the board.”
The Aggies compete in arguably the toughest conference in the sport, the Southeastern Conference. Texas A&M enters the season ranked No. 1, but two SEC teams follow in the rankings with Georgia at No. 2 and Auburn third. The fourth conference school, South Carolina, isn’t too far behind at No. 7.
All four schools have the ability to catch fire just like Texas A&M did last season. In fact, the Aggies were the national champions but did not capture the conference championship. That honor belonged to Georgia, which also returns a solid core of experienced riders.
Georgia advanced all the way to the NCEA National Championship last season before falling to the red-hot Aggies.
“When we came back for school, we still had a little bit of celebrating left to do, not only for our SEC Championship last year, but also for receiving the highest GPA of all the Georgia sports,” Georgia head coach Meghan Boenig said. “It was great having everyone back together.”
While three SEC teams topped the preseason rankings, it would be foolish to forget about other teams around the country. The Big 12 conference has always produced national championship contenders, and this season will be no different.
Baylor is the defending conference champion, and will have a new head coach in former Kansas State coach Casie Maxwell, who takes over after the departure of Ellen White. The Bears will face stiff competition from Oklahoma State, winners of the Big 12 four out of the past six years.
On paper, the Cowgirls certainly have one of the most talented rosters in the country. They are led by defending NCEA Reining Rider of the Year Hannah Mitchell, who won the award as a freshman. She is joined by a whopping six NCEA All-Americans this season.
Head coach Larry Sanchez noted that the team graduated just two starters from last year’s team.
“We’ve got the potential to be pretty good,” Sanchez said. “But as in any sport, things need to fall into place and things need to happen in order for that successful season to come about. There’s not as many unknowns as we normally have at the beginning of the year. A few of the upperclassmen mentioned that they have a different comfort level this year on what they want to accomplish.”
Oklahoma State and Baylor come in at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in the rankings, but right behind those two squads is fellow Big 12 foe TCU at No. 6. The Horned Frogs will rely on a lot of newcomers this season, but they are talented riders. Returners like Jayme Omand, Carly Lombard and Jamie Cook will anchor the team.
Last, but definitely not least, the United Equestrian Conference figures to be as wide open as ever. In the three seasons of the conference’s existence, three different teams have won the conference title. Last season, it was host Delaware State winning the tournament as the lowest seed to capture a spot in the NCEA National Championship.
This season, SMU will enter as the highest ranked team from the conference. The Mustangs return a lot of talent from last season’s team, including NCEA All-Americans Vivian Yowan and Keagan Snively. Nora Gray and Ashley Mauney are also mainstays in the lineup.
However, along with the returning talent, head coach Carol Gwin will have to break in 13 new riders, which is more than a quarter of the roster.
“We’ve got some really nice new faces, but having some upperclassmen who have been there, done that is fabulous,” Gwin said.
Along with Delaware State and SMU, Fresno State (2015 UEC Champion), Delaware State and South Dakota State will all compete for spots in Waco at the end of the season.
“I think the United Equestrian Conference is really good prep for nationals,” Gwin said. “We’re excited to host it this year. This is the first time we have ever hosted it, so that’s a bonus. We’re looking forward to having a bunch of fans here.”
Be sure to stay tuned to collegiateequestrian.com for score updates throughout the regular season.