Auburn team captain Elizabeth Benson (above), a senior All-American, rides on Saturday in the hunt seat competition.
Waco, Tex.--Auburn won its fourth national championship in equestrian, taking an 8-7 comeback victory over TCU in the championship round on Saturday evening.
The top-ranked Tigers had to rally from 5-3 down at halftime for the victory vs. the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs, who upset Georgia in the semi-finals for a chance to win the National Collegiate Equestrian Association title in the competition at the Extraco Events Center.
The Tigers went into the final event, reining, with a 7-5 lead after rallying with a 4-0 sweep of the hunt seat equitation on the flat competition.
“It was a really tough time, but we knew we had our strongest event coming,” Auburn coach Greg Williams told Inside the Auburn Tigers when asked about his team's comeback from being down two points at the halfway mark. “Our flat riders just swept the event and that put us right back ahead.
“Then we had two reiners pick up a point and a tie and secured it outright,” he said. “It was a huge day.”
Blair McFarlin’s 138 to 137.5 victory in reining gave the Tigers what proved to be the winning edge and Haley Munger tied her TCU opponent 142-142 in reining to give the Tigers a one-point victory.
“What really clinched it for us at the end is we had a freshman reiner (McFarlin) and a senior come through for us at the end," Williams said. "Blair McFarlin came in and won the first point in the reining and that pretty much meant we would win if we got down to raw scores and then senior Haley Munger came in and posted a tie and we won outright.
“This team has been so incredibly good and has won so much, but what I?love about them is how united they have been,” Williams said. “It is one of the best teams I have coached in all of our history.
“When you have that, and you are so good, you know it is kind of scary when you know you are supposed to win, but you still have to win it," he pointed out.
The Tigers celebrate on Saturday night after their victory.
“TCU came out to battle,” Williams said. “They came from one of the lower seedings and were beating people and they came to play hard. I am glad our girls matched it up and stayed in it and won.”
Freshman Caitlin Boyle, freshman Ashton Alexander, junior Ashley Foster and senior Elizabeth Hunt provided the equitation on the flat sweep. Boyle and Alexander also took wins on equitation over fences, which the teams split 2-2. "They are the most dominant group in the country," Williams said.
The Horned Frogs won the western horsemanship competition 3-1 with senior Hannah Loseke scoring for Auburn.
Hannah Loseke competes in Waco at the nationals.
The Tigers drew a first-round bye into the quarter-finals where they defeated Kansas State 15-1 on Friday.
In the semi-finals on Saturday the Tigers, the SEC champion, defeated league rival Texas A&M 10-6 to move into the championship round.
Three-time All-American Benson said the team set winning the national title as its goal. "To finish up our senior year with a big win is very exciting," she said. "Finishing my career with this team is really great and I couldn't be more proud."
Benson was named the Most Outstanding Performer for the flat competition. Boyle won that award in fencing and McFarlin was honored as the Most Outstanding Performer in the championship match in reining. The NCEA All-Championship Team included Benson (flat), Foster (flat), Boyle (flat and fences), Loseke (horsemanship) and McFarlin (reining).
Auburn's head coach had praise for the job his staff has done this season. “Congratulations to my position coaches, Coach (Jessica) Braswell and Coach (Mary) Meneely, who proved why they are the two best position coaches in the country," Williams said. "Auburn has an extremely bright future ahead of us because it is a fabulous place and I?have a staff that is second to none in the country.”