AU Equestrian Team Wins National Championship

Auburn's newest intercollegiate athletic team has won its first national title.

Albuquerque, N.M.--Auburn's women's equestrian team celebrated its first national championship on Friday night after taking a pair of victories over rival Georgia at the Varsity Equestrian Championships.

The wins over Georgia in the hunt seat (English) and western competitions clinched the overall team championship for Auburn. Last season, South Carolina took the overall championship in the event that began in 2002.

On Saturday afternoon at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds the Tigers tried to add two more trophies by taking the hunt seat and western competitions. However, Oklahoma State defeated Aubur 851-847 in western and South Carolina was a 906-853 winner in the hunt seat division.

Auburn came into the nationals seeded fifth in hunt seat and the Tigers upset No. 1 seed Georgia 776-735 in their third round match on Friday evening. The seventh seeded Auburn western team team defeated No. 3 seed Georgia by a narrow 841.5-840 margin.

After winning their opening round matchups on Thursday vs. Baylor and West Texas A&M, the Tigers set up the showdowns with Georgia by defeating No. 2 seed and host, New Mexico State in western, and No. 4 seed Oklahoma State seat in hunt seat.

"It is a tremendous feeling to win the national championship and defeating our SEC archrival, Georgia, to do it makes it even more special," Auburn coach Greg Williams told Inside the Auburn Tigers from a team victory dinner in Albuquerque. "It doesn't get any better than this."

Even though the Tigers were not favored to contend for the national title, Williams said he has believed his team had the talent to do it. "We definitely felt like we were capable of winning the title," he said. "I told them team if everybody gave a 100 percent effort, picked up their teammates whenever something went wrong and stayed together as a team we could do this and that is what happened."

Kelly Gottfried is the daughter of former pro tennis star Brian Gottfried.

Senior Kelly Gottfried in hunt seat and junior Whitney Kimble in western were the high scorers for the Tigers vs. the Lady Bulldogs. "To know the girls rode so great in the hunt seat and western is exciting," Williams said. "Georgia rode well. The hunt seat came down to the last rider, and we had an extremely tough horse. The last reigning ride came down between Kimble and Georgia's Carly Veldman, and Whitney won by enough points to win the western by 1.5 points. It has been a super day and the girls have been great together. The whole team rallied and turned up huge scores."

Auburn's seventh-seeded western team defeated No. 3 seed Georgia 841.5-840 while the Tigers' No. 5 seed hunt seat team defeated the top-seeded Bulldogs 776-735 to clinch the overall national title, which Williams says is the one that every team wants the most.

Gottfried followed Georgia's Megan Richardson as Auburn's final rider in the hunt seat on a challenging horse. Richardson scored 85 so Gottfried needed 120 points for the win. She came through with a clutch performance with a score of 160 to clinch the victory. Auburn freshman Maggie White and junior Natalie Burton also defeated their Georgia counterparts.

"It was great to have that much pressure and perform under it," said Gottfried. "That it what drives me, and I went for everything I got. It is unbelievable. It has been a long four years and we have had some ups and downs this season. We were able to ride well and we all did it on the same day."

In the western competition, Kimble posted a 142.5 as Auburn's final rider to give the Tigers the win. Tigers Kimberly Tidwell, Julie Gibbes and Ashley Griffith also defeated their Georgia opponents.

"It hasn't sunk in yet that we are national champions," said Kimble. "I know we are, but it's just unbelievable. I rode before the Georgia girl and she rode very well. I had a lump in my stomach waiting for the judges' score on her ride. We worked so hard this year and it's a super feeling."

White, freshman Jenny Reinhart, and Burton led the Tigers to victory in the Hunt Seat, while freshman Ashley Milton, Kimble, freshman Ashley Griffith and sophomore Julie Gibbes helped Auburn in its victory over New Mexico State.

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