By: Alex Riley, NCEA
WACO, Texas – Much of Meghan Boenig’s day at the Extraco Events Center was spent trying to figure out the next twist up ahead.
Every time Georgia’s equestrian coach thought she had things solved, the rollercoaster took an unexpected turn, forcing the Bulldogs to respond.
And respond they did.
Rallying from deficits against Baylor in the quarterfinals and Texas A&M in the semis, Georgia stormed back to earn a spot in Saturday’s NCEA Team Championship.
“One thing that this season has really taught us is about being battle ready and continuing to fight,” Boenig said. “We wanted to come out and just ride. And that’s what these ladies did.”
Against the Bears, Georgia went down 5-3 to start the day, losing Equitation on the Flat, 3-1, and settling for a 2-2 draw in horsemanship. Thanks to a 4-0 victory in Reining and a 3-1 win in Equitation over Fences, the Bulldogs were able to advance to the semifinals with a 10-6 win.
That created a rematch of last month’s SEC Championship semifinals, when Texas A&M pulled off an upset to reach the championship. The Bulldogs had won both regular season meetings between the two schools.
This time around, Georgia found itself in a familiar spot, trailing 5-2 once Horsemanship and Equitation over Fences were done. After a 2-2 tie in Equitation on the Flat, the Bulldogs swept the Reining matchup to pull out the 8-7 win and move on.
Their opponent in the championship will be a familiar one.
Top-seeded Auburn knocked off TCU (12-4) in the quarterfinals and Oklahoma State (11-5) in the semifinals. While the overall outcome was easily decided, the Tigers did get an early wakeup call, dropping Horsemanship, 3-1, against TCU to start the day. Auburn got a bye in the Horsemanship event bracket on Wednesday.
“I think a little of that is having a bye in the event where other schools are out there riding in the events didn’t help us in that way because we kind of came in a little bit rusty,” Auburn coach Greg Williams said. “They shook that part off after falling behind in horsemanship and swept the reining and really knocked it out in hunt seat.”
Those victories set up a very familiar championship battle on Saturday. The Tigers and Bulldogs met in the NCEA finals last year, with Auburn upsetting top-seeded Georgia to claim the crown. In the regular season, Auburn won both matchups, 11-6 and 17-3.
No matter the outcome, one thing remains unchanged – the SEC will get a seventh straight national champion.
For the Tigers, it’s a quest to repeat.
“We sort of planned on it. We didn’t know who would get there, but we figured one of the others would meet us there,” Williams said. “You want to play whoever is there. We just wanted to be in. Now that we’re there, we’ll regroup and be ready.”
For the Bulldogs, it’s a shot at redemption.
“We know that we have to be not only extremely clean in everything that we ride on Saturday but extremely bold,” Boenig said. “So we’re taking a breath tonight, getting ready for event brackets tomorrow, re-gearing for Friday night. And Saturday morning we know it’s all going to be about laying it down.”
Event bracket competition resumes at 8:35 a.m. Friday with the quarterfinals of Equitation over Fences and Reining. Immediately after, the semifinals of both events will be held, with Fences set to start at 11:26 a.m. and Reining at 12:45 p.m.
The quarterfinals of Equitation on the Flat will start at 1:56 p.m., followed by the semifinals. The quarterfinals of Horsemanship is set to being at 3:31 p.m., followed by the semifinals.