WACO, Texas - Close, but not enough. That’s how the last three years have gone for the Georgia equestrian program at the National Collegiate Equestrian Association Championship.
Bulldog coach Meghan Boenig reminded her squad of that before the start of the team championship bracket on Thursday at the Extraco Events Center in Waco. The message must have stuck.
“There was certainly an urgency that all of us feel. We’ve been knocking on the door time and time again these last couple several years, and we want to bust through it,” Boenig said.
Since winning the 2014 national title, the Bulldogs have reached the finals twice and the semifinals once, but haven’t been able to leave with hardware. They’re back in position to compete for a championship after dispatching South Carolina, 11-4, in the quarterfinals and Texas A&M, 13-1, in the semifinals.
But it certainly won’t be easy.
“The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” will be renewed Saturday as Georgia and Auburn square off for the fourth time this season. Only this time, much more is at-stake. The Tigers took care of Baylor, 12-3, in the quarterfinals, then downed TCU, 12-4, in the semifinals.
In three previous meetings this year, the Bulldogs went 2-1 against the Tigers, including a 12-7 win at the SEC Championship last month.
“Between the two of us, it’s something that’s expected,” Auburn coach Greg Williams said of the rematch. “This year I really felt like we dropped the ball at our SEC Championships. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do, so we’re kind of looking forward to this. It’s just kind of some unfinished business for us.”
Both teams used recent NCEA Championship results as fuel for their 2018 campaigns. For Georgia, it was those narrow misses the last three seasons. After winning the 2016 team championship, Auburn faced the Bulldogs in the semifinals last year, falling 9-7, ending a chance at becoming back-to-back champions.
Williams called last year’s finish a moment when his team “stubbed our own toe.” Since then, the Tigers have been eager to get back to this point and have a shot at redemption.
“It’s something that all those that are here are anxious for, they’re ready for it,” Williams said. “They’ve worked hard all year to get here and I don’t think they’re going to squander their chance. This is something we’re counting on a win right now.”
The Bulldogs might have something to say about that.
Familiarity will likely play a part in this matchup at some point, and both teams have a wealth of past experience to draw on once the competition starts.
From the looks of things, neither side would have it any other way.
“It’s a great rivalry. They’re a very strong team. It will be a battle. We expect nothing less than that Saturday morning,” Boenig said. “But you know what, on the other hand, we compete against them so often, we know what to expect. This is no surprise.”
Up Next- Event Championship Quarterfinals will begin Friday morning at 8:30 AM CT.