WACO, Texas - Gathered to watch the final ride of Equitation on the Flat with South Dakota State, Delaware State equestrian coach Jennifer Ridgely and her squad anxiously watched Emily Nelson take the arena on the back of Ozzie.
The math was simple – Nelson, a senior rider, needed a combined score of 160 for the Hornets to pull even with the Jackrabbits. One point better, and they would advance in the 2018 National Collegiate Equestrian Association Championship event bracket.
“We’re all sitting there, literally holding our breath for every stride she was doing. And she had a beautiful ride,” Ridgely said.
Nelson’s 165-point score gave Delaware State a point to pull even in rides won at 2-2 and edge out South Dakota State in the raw score, 599-594.
And with that ride, the Hornets made history.
The only Historically Black College in the NCEA with an equestrian program, Delaware State advanced to the second round at the NCEA’s culminating event for the first time in school history. The sixth-seeded Hornets will get No. 3 Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals Friday. The Cowboys earned a 4-0 victory over West Texas A&M to advance.
“We’re a small school and this is the first time we’ve ever made it to the second round. So, that’s huge,” Ridgely said. “We would have loved to just flat team go through, but for us this is a first-ever for our program. This shows the growth that we’ve made and we’re ecstatic. It’s a big deal.”
Tight scores in the Equitation on the Flat competition were not uncommon. No. 9 Fresno State and No. 4 Texas A&M pulled out 3-1 wins over No. 8 UT-Martin and No. 13 Sweet Briar College, respectively, while No. 5 SMU edged No. 12 Baylor 2-1. Second-seeded Auburn got a 4-0 win over No. 15 Minnesota Crookston, while top-seeded Georgia earned a bye to the quarterfinals.
Equitation over Fences
The scenario played out this way before for Meghan Cunningham and the UT-Martin equestrian team. In a regular season match against Fresno State, the Equitation over Fences competition was a deadlock of matchups won that had to be decided by raw score.
When the two schools met in the first-round of the event bracket at the NCEA Championship, Cunningham knew what to expect.
“We’ve played Fresno tight all year. I think every time we’ve played them, it’s come down to a 2-2 raw score. So I knew that today was going to be probably the same scenario. It was going to be a competitive battle,” Cunningham said.
The No. 8 Skyhawks pulled out a 635-597 raw score win over the No. 9 Bulldogs, sending them to the quarterfinals against top-seeded Texas A&M on Friday.
UT-Martin wasn’t the only school who needed a raw score to advance as No. 6 South Carolina edged No. 11 Baylor 637-630 after each program won two matchups. No. 7 TCU outlasted No. 10 Sweet Briar 2-1, while No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 SMU pulled out 3-1 victories against No. 14 Minnesota Crookston and No. 13 Delaware State, respectively. Second-seeded Georgia and fifth-seeded Oklahoma State earned 4-0 wins over No. 15 West Texas A&M and No. 12 South Dakota State, respectively, to reach the quarterfinals.
The point totals were the same, but for Baylor a head-to-head victory made all the difference. The No. 6 Bears and No. 11 South Carolina each scored 583.5 points in the opening round of the Horsemanship bracket at the NCEA Championship, but Baylor’s 3-1 advantage in matchups won pushed the team to the quarterfinals. Baylor gets No. 3 Texas A&M on Friday after the Aggies beat No. 14 West Texas A&M 4-0.
No. 9 Fresno State, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 5 TCU each earned 4-0 wins to advance, while seventh-seeded SMU got past No. 10 UT-Martin 3-1.
Baylor’s ability to pull out narrow wins in Western competitions wasn’t limited to Horsemanship, as the sixth-seeded Bears got past No. 11 UT-Martin in the Reining competition, 2-1. Baylor will face No. 3 Auburn in the quarterfinals on Friday after the Tigers took care of No. 14 Minnesota Crookston, 4-0.
In other action, three teams earned 3-1 wins to advance as fourth-seeded SMU took down No. 13 West Texas A&M, No. 5 Texas A&M bested No. 12 Fresno State and No. 7 South Dakota State got by No. 10 Delaware State. No. 9 South Carolina did pull a slight upset, beating No. 8 TCU 4-0.
The Quarterfinals and Semifinals of the overall team competition will run throughout the day on Thursday, starting at 8:30 AM CT with Horsemanship and Equitation on the Flat to kick things off.
NCEA National Championship Team Seeding (Bracket):
- OKLAHOMA STATE
- TEXAS A&M
- SOUTH CAROLINA