By: Alex Riley, NCEA
WACO, Texas – Before the start of the 2018-19 NCEA season, Auburn’s Greg Williams had the typical angst coaches get before a new year of competition. He knew his program had talent, but turning individual success into a cohesive team is no guarantee.
As the 2019 NCEA National Championship looms, Williams’ nerves have definitely been settled over the course of an unbeaten season.
“I think the greatest thing we’ve got is the leadership from our senior class this year. We’re handling all the out of the arena stuff so well,” Williams said. “Going into this championship, we’ll have everybody pulling in the same direction. And when we do that, they’re normally a force to be reckoned with for sure.”
The defending NCEA champs are 15-0, capturing their first SEC crown since 2016 while staying atop the NCEA rankings all season. The Tigers are seeded first in the overall team bracket, as well as Equitation on the Flat, Equitation over Fences and Horsemanship. The action from the Extraco Events Center in Waco begins Wednesday with champions being crowned on Saturday.
Auburn returns several key riders from its 2018 title run, including SEC Equitation on the Flat Rider of the Year Taylor St. Jacques and Horsemanship Rider of the Year Lauren Diaz. Freshman McKayla Langmeier will be making her first rides at the NCEA finale after earning SEC Freshman of the year in Equitation Over Fences and On the Flat.
That deep talent pool will certainly help, but to earn a third title in four years, Auburn will have to take down another loaded field. SMU marched through the United Equestrian Conference bracket, finishing an impressive run with a 14-2 win over Fresno State in the finals. Two-time UEC Over Fences Rider of the Year Nora Gray leads the Mustangs, while Vivian Yowan was the league’s On the Flat Rider of the Year.
Baylor secured the Big 12 title by edging Oklahoma State in points. The Bears earned three rider of the year honors from the league with Madison Day (Over Fences), Grace Thiel (On the Flat) and Sydney Scheckel (Reining) each being recognized.
“It’s incredibly tough. Just as we get better the more time we have to prepare, so do all of our opponents. We know that there is no room for complacency at the national championship,” Baylor coach Cassie Maxwell said.
“We just came off of winning the Big 12 Championship which was a great feat, but the reality is that it's over and that win will not carry us through this week’s championship. It’s really important to be humble and focused and never allow yourself to think you’re ‘there’ because there’s always someone ready to sneak up and beat you.”
Keep up live
Even if you can’t make the trip to Waco for this week’s championship, that doesn’t mean you have to miss the action.
For the third straight year, all of the NCEA National Championship will be streaming live via EQ SportsNet. The platform allows equestrian fans across the globe an opportunity to keep up events as they happen.
“Having EQ SportsNet, the premier equine digital media company in the U.S., working with us to produce a top notch show for fans of NCAA Equestrian has been fantastic,” NCEA National Advisory Board Co-Chair Tom O’Mara said.
“They produce great live coverage of the NCEA National Championship as well as a superb post produced show for all EQSportsNet subscribers to watch.”
To watch, simply visit www.eqsports.net and subscribe.
A new face
The latest team to join the NCEA is excited for its first trip to the season culminating event.
First-year program UC Davis will compete this week as the Aggies looks to finish out their inaugural season by showing how far they’ve come.
For everyone except head coach Jessie Weisinger, this experience will be a first.
“This first year, we want to go, have fun and let them see what this is all about. Obviously they are competitive just like all the other teams and want to do well and walk away with some wins,” Weisinger said. “We have stressed this is no different from regular season, you are given a pattern, go out there and ride the pattern to the best of you and your equine partner's ability. Our goal is to have clean goes and have some fun while they are it and let the points fall where they fall.”
Need to know
Team championship: Ten 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 Hunter 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 14 teams –in Hunter 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 Hunter 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.