WACO, Texas - The question causes Meghan Boenig to momentarily pause and laugh. Georgia’s longtime equestrian coach has seen a lot change in the sport over the last two decades, but admits she hadn’t thought about what was going to be on the line at the 2018 National Collegiate Equestrian Association Championships this weekend.
For the first time in NCEA history, seven titles are up for grabs, giving teams a plethora of opportunities to take hardware home.
“I never really think of it as, ‘Oh, what if Georgia or (team) XYZ has seven titles to head home with,’ even though that’s always your end goal,” Boenig said with a laugh. “We’re all just so excited about including more. That’s the biggest thing.”
As the sport of equestrian has expanded at the collegiate level, so has the NCEA’s approach to crowning its best. The primary title that has long defined the season-ending competition is still available as the pinnacle achievement- the combined team national championship. Now, two discipline champions in Western and Hunt Seat and four event champions will be recognized, in Equitation Over Fences and Equitation on the Flat for Hunt Seat riders, plus Reining and Horsemanship for Western competitors. The new brackets allow teams who might not have riders in both disciplines the opportunity to compete and possibly win at the Extraco Events Center in Waco. The expanded field also means a longer stay in Texas as the competition will be spread out over four days, starting Wednesday and culminating with CP Championship Saturday.
“The way that we were doing things from last year and past years was just offering an overall championship where you had to have a Hunt Seat and a Western team in order to compete,” Oklahoma State coach Larry Sanchez said. “We opened it up so that those schools that may be up in the Northeast and only have hunt seat have a place to participate in NCEA equestrian.”
That plan appears to have worked as three schools – Sweet Briar College, West Texas A&M and the University of Minnesota Crookston – will be competing in NCEA events for the first time.
And if this sport has proven anything over the years, it’s that anyone can finish on top.
The No. 1 overall seed has only won the team title once in the last three years, with Texas A&M capturing 2017 honors as the fifth seed. The Aggies find themselves as the fourth seed this season in the eight-team bracket. Georgia is the top overall seed.
“In any sport, you have that much success and it’s really hard to recreate. So we’ve really just been concentrating on this is a new year,” Texas A&M coach Tana McKay said. “It’s a different team. It’s not the same team as it was last year and trying to recreate something is nearly impossible.”
While there’s plenty of changes in how the competition works and who is taking part, one thing isn’t different – every team’s desire to end the season as NCEA champion. And now, there’s more chances to do just that.
“Our goal (as the NCEA) is give more women more opportunities to compete in an NCAA type competition. We’re going after the team championship and the events will fall where they fall,” SMU coach Carol Gwin said. “It would certainly be nice to walk away with an event title, a discipline title and/or a team title. That’s our goal.”
Need to know
Team championship: Eight teams will compete in a seeded bracket with four riders from each team going head-to-head in four events (Equitation Over Fences and Equitation on the Flat for Hunt Seat riders and Reining and Horsemanship for Western riders). The quarterfinals and semifinals will happen on Thursday, with the championship battle set for Saturday. In each round, 16 points are available and the team with most points advances.
Event championships: There are four event brackets featuring up to 16 teams –in Hunt Seat it’s Equitation Over Fences and Equitation on the Flat, while its Horsemanship and Reining in Western. The first round will be held on Wednesday, with quarterfinals and semifinals taking place Friday. Each brackets’ champion will be determined on Saturday.
Discipline championships: Points teams accrue while competing in the event brackets will go towards winning Hunt Seat and Western disciplines titles. Whoever finishes with the most at the end of the competition, is the discipline winner.
Point system: In the event championships, a win in each round has a specified point total –
Quarterfinals are worth 2, semifinals are worth 4, runner-up is worth 7 and event champion is worth 11.
By the numbers
15: Different teams who will be competing over the four days. The teams come from 11 different states, with five hailing from Texas (Texas A&M, Baylor, SMU, TCU, West Texas A&M). Every other state has just one team.
23: Universities currently fielding equestrian programs. Last week, UC Davis announced it would be adding equestrian starting in the 2018-19 academic year, bringing the total to 24.
37: Returning riders for Texas A&M from the 2017 NCEA Championship squad. The Aggies are trying to become the first program to capture back-to-back titles since Georgia (2008-10).
1,585: Miles between Fresno State University and the Extraco Events Center in Waco. The Bulldogs have the longest trip in terms of mileage. First-time participant Sweet Brier College in Virginia is second at 1,263 miles, followed by fellow first-timer Minnesota Crookston at 1,258.
2012: Last time a program not from the SEC won the team national title. Texas A&M captured the 2012 crown just a few months before leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC. Since then, Auburn (twice), Georgia, South Carolina and the Aggies have won crowns for the SEC.