WACO, Texas - Mimi Wroten liked what she saw when she judged a National Collegiate Equestrian Association event. The level of competition and format between Division I schools was something that intrigued the Sweet Briar College equestrian coach.
She thought her riders from the Division III program could benefit from competing at college equestrian’s highest level. She just needed an opportunity.
So, when the NCEA altered its format for the 2018 National Championship, Wroten was ready.
“When that opportunity came, I kind of jumped on it,” Wroten said with a laugh. “We went with an attitude that we were going to do our best as well as learn a lot about the format of things and have a great experience.”
So far, so good.
The Vixens are joining West Texas A&M and University of Minnesota Crookston as schools outside of the Division I who will be competing for championships at the Extraco Events Center in Waco this week. The Lady Buffs and Golden Eagles are from the Division II level.
The chance to compete was made possible by several rule and format changes to the NCEA Championship. Event brackets were created for four competitions. All three schools are competing in Equitation over Fences and Equitation on the Flat, while Minnesota Crookston and West Texas A&M are taking part in Horsemanship and Reining. The competition starts Wednesday with the first round, followed by quarterfinals and semifinals Friday. The championship battle will be Saturday. Points accrued in those events could also lead to Hunt Seat or Western championships.
To reach Waco, the qualifying standards during the regular season were changed to three competitions in a season. West Texas A&M coach Amanda Love took it as an opportunity to schedule the best in order to qualify. The Lady Buffs took on Baylor, Oklahoma State and defending national champion Texas A&M along the way.
“We didn’t pick any low-hanging fruit to go against in our first time to try and go towards a championship. It just made us better every time,” Love said. “We’ve been able to walk out of the pen every time with ties or wins. For a small Division II university to be able to hold their own and try to play in a bigger sandbox, we’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve been able to grow stronger as a team and it’s pushed my riders to become better in the saddle and have a higher standard.”
Competing against a few of the nation’s best programs gave the three teams a taste of what it’s like at the top.
On Wednesday, they’ll get the full meal.
Minnesota Crookston coach Kayla Krueger called the invitation to NCEA Championship a huge moment for her program. Competing at South Dakota State and UT-Martin were eye-opening experiences. Now, the Golden Eagles are ready for even more.
“I think the girls are feeling a little bit more confident with a couple more meets under their belt,” Krueger said. “They’re ecstatic. Their nerves are going a little bit, but I think they’re good nerves.”