By: Alex Riley, NCEA
WACO, Texas – After months of repeating it, SMU equestrian’s season-long mantra will finally become reality.
The Mustangs have used the phrase “Play on Saturday” countless times during the 2018-19 season, a nod to the program finally breaking through and competing on the final day of the NCEA National Championship.
This Saturday, SMU’s reining riders will do just that.
Lifted by a pair of tie-break wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina, the Mustangs are in the finals of the Reining event bracket. They’ll face Georgia for a shot at the program’s first piece of NCEA hardware.
“Our goal was to play on Saturday. We had a hashtag all year, #PlayOnSaturday,” SMU coach Carol Gwin said. “Even if it was just one event on Saturday, it’s just so huge for the whole team and the whole team will be out there cheering on these girls I guarantee you louder than anybody else in those stands.”
SMU earned the spot by outlasting the Aggies and Gamecocks. Each matchup was a 2-2 split, but the Mustangs finished with higher point totals both times. Against Texas A&M, it was a 793-610 victory, while it was an 809-606.5 win against South Carolina.
“They just put their chins out, when people asked for re-rides, they went and re-rode and did whatever they had to do to get it done and I’m just really proud of them,” Gwin said.
Gwin credits the work of assistant coach McKenzie Lantz as a big reason the Mustangs are in position to make school and conference history. With a win, it would be the first time a United Equestrian Conference program would earn an NCEA trophy.
While SMU is trying to make history, TCU is attempting to finish the season with a trophy in-hand for just the second time ever.
The Horned Frogs will battle Georgia in the Horsemanship bracket finale after advancing on a pair scoring wins. In the quarterfinals, TCU used an 864.5-860.5 score advantage to earn a spot in the semifinals against Baylor. Once again, it came down to the score, as the Horned Frogs held on for the 879.5-851 victory.
“One thing about all of our horsemanship riders is they’re not afraid to go out and take a risk. They’re all really good horsemen and have really good feel. I think that was the difference maker for them today,” TCU coach Haley Schoolfield said.
A win would give TCU its first NCEA trophy since winning the Western Seat team title in 2007. TCU did compete for the overall team title in 2016.
A shot at a lot
Georgia and Auburn have a chance to finish the 2019 NCEA Championship with a lot of hardware. In addition to facing off for the team and discipline titles, both programs are also in the finals of multiple event brackets.
Georgia has a shot at three event titles – Reining, Over Fences and Horsemanship. The Bulldogs won On the Flat in 2018.
Auburn, winners of two event crowns last year, will try to defend its Horsemanship victory from 2018 while adding On the Flat to the trophy case.
The action culminates on Saturday with the crowning of seven champions. Auburn and Georgia will square off at 8:40 a.m. for the team national championship, as well as the Western and Hunt Seat discipline titles.
After that, the event finals will start at 2:25 p.m. with Equitation over Fences and Horsemanship. Reining will begin at 3:50, followed by Equitation on the Flat at 4:10 p.m.