By: Alex Riley, NCEA
WACO, Texas – The realization was quickly followed by shouts.
When the deciding point for Delaware State appeared on the scoreboard in Wednesday’s NCEA Reining Championship bracket ride against UT-Martin, coach Jennifer Ridgely and her reiners knew exactly what had happened. The Hornets secured a spot in the second round of the reining bracket for the first time in program history.
Across the arena, teammates who weren’t riding had figured it out too.
“You can hear your teammates in the stands screaming and yelling, it just makes all the hard work and long hours just worth it for those couple moments,” Ridgely said with a laugh. “Everybody needs those little moments to make the work worth it.”
All four riders finished with 201 points or more on the way to 3-1 victory.
It’s the second straight year the Hornets have advanced to the second round in an NCEA event. Last year, Delaware State won its first-round matchup in Equitation on the Flat.
Delaware State wasn’t the only program to make history on opening day.
In 2018, Sweet Briar College made its first appearance at the NCEA’s season-culminating event. A year later, the Vixens will compete in the second round for the first time.
Thanks to a 226-point ride from Lillian Peterson, Sweet Briar edged Delaware State 845-832 in Equitation over Fences after tying 2-2 in rides won to reach the second round.
The Vixens’ reward? A battle with top-seeded Auburn in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“We already have made history for our school, so now we’re going to keep just moving ahead and stay as positive as we can and see if we can put some points up on the board against Auburn, which will be certainly a hard team to compete against,” Sweet Briar coach Mimi Wroten said. “But I feel like for any rider or competitor, being able to compete against a No. 1 seed or whoever is considered the best, pushes you to do more and teaches you a lot about your skills and ability.”
To the wire
Meghan Cunningham wasn’t expecting UT-Martin to help rewrite NCEA protocol on the opening day of the 2019 National Championship. But her Skyhawks did just that during Wednesday’s Equitation on the Flat battle with TCU.
The programs finished with two wins and exactly 747 points scored on four rides. According to NCEA rules, the highest and lowest scores from the five judges are thrown out for each rider, and the remaining three scores are used as the metric for scoring.
With everything still knotted up, NCEA officials spent more than an hour searching for the missing scores to figure out a winner. When the count was over, the Skyhawks were ahead 1245-1240.
“From here on out, we will write down the high and the low scores as well,” Cunningham joked. “We fortunately were on the positive side of the outcome, but when you consider that there were five judges and there was only a five-point differential. I would be interested to know statistically what the odds of that are. That is very, very tight competition.”
Narrow margins defined the first day of competition. While only two of the 22 matches needed a tiebreaker, 11 of the final scores were within 25 points of each other. That included South Carolina’s 3-1 Horesmanship win over Fresno State (844-839.5), Baylor’s 3-1 Horsemanship win over South Dakota State (859.5-857.5) and Auburn’s 3-1 Reining win over Fresno State (829.5-822).
The opening round of team bracket competition will begin at 8:35 a.m. on Thursday. First-round matchups will be No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 8 TCU, No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 SMU, No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Georgia and No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 7 South Carolina.
The semifinals between the winners will start at 4:21 p.m. later in the day.