Top NCEA Teams Start Spring Competition this Weekend

RELEASE: January 30, 2013

The NCEA spring season began last weekend, but competition really heats up Friday and Saturday with the top seven ranked NCEA teams (NCEA Coaches Poll) back in action. With no team clearly dominant at the end of the fall season, matches this weekend will go a long way toward determining the trajectory of the spring season, and could factor into National Championship seeding as well.

No.1 University of South Carolina vs. No.3* University of Georgia

The marquee matchup of the weekend will be in Blythewood, SC where conference rivals South Carolina and Georgia meet for the second time this competition year. In November the Gamecocks rode early momentum to stun the Bulldgos 11-8 in Bishop, GA.  It was the second straight time the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs at the UGA Equestrian Complex, a venue that almost always sees the home-team win (UGA is 50-2 all time in regular season matches held at the Complex), and the loss knocked Georgia out of the No.1 spot in the rankings.

This time around circumstances are different. South Carolina was last in action more than two months ago, and the end of their fall season wasn’t exactly spectacular. Though they held onto No.1 in the rankings, the Gamecocks lost a close meet at Baylor 8-9 and a Hunt Seat match with Southern Methodist 4-5. Georgia, conversely, began their spring season last weekend with a dominating 12-4 win over Fresno State. The Bulldogs head to Blytheville full of confidence, as the underdogs, with a chip on their shoulder, and with momentum.

“We’re coming off of a great win at Fresno State, where we remembered how to travel and win,” UGA assistant coach Lisa Anderson told, and if that’s true the Gamecocks may be in trouble. But…there’s a lot at stake here; pride, for one thing, but also national and SEC positioning and, as we creep closer to the NCEA National Championship, the chance to leave an indelible impression. The Gamecocks are certainly aware of all that…and they're not the No.1 team in the nation for no reason.

Fresno State University vs. No. 2 Auburn University & No.6 Kansas State University

Fresno State hosts Auburn and KSU this weekend and will ride against both teams on Friday. This competition year hasn’t been great for Fresno State (they’re 0-4 overall) but they have to be given credit for taking on a tough schedule. Their loses have come against SMU, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Georgia, all top ten teams. Their chances for a first win don’t get much better on Friday, but an upset over either either team would be a huge statement.

No. 2 Auburn University & No.6 Kansas State University

Fresno State’s opponents will stay in California for a neutral site match on Saturday. Both teams are coming off of strong fall seasons with K. State finishing at 6 – 1, their only loss coming in a tiebreaker against SMU, and Auburn 3-1 with a one point loss against South Carolina the only thing keeping them from the No.1 ranking.

Auburn is the favorite here, but the Wildcats have soundly defeat most of their opponents during this competition year, and this match starts off a tough run against five ranked opponents before the Big 12 Championship in March. For the Tigers a re-match with South Carolina looms on February 14th.

No.3* Texas A&M University vs. No.5 Oklahoma State University

This meeting of Former Big-12 rivals is probably more important to the Cowgirls who are 5-3 overall and looking for their first win over an SEC opponent this competition year. They’re riding the momentum of wins over Delaware State and Tennessee-Martin last weekend, but the Texas A&M promises to be a much tougher opponent. However, the Aggies sit at 4-3 (0-3 SEC) and don’t want to start their spring season by slipping to .500. Should be a good showdown in Stillwater.

No.7 Baylor University vs. New Mexico State University

When these two teams met back in September at the Willis Invitational the Bears won it 11-5. Since then they’ve gone on to amass a 6-3 record (1-2 Big 12) that includes a big win over South Carolina at the end of the fall season. The Aggies are at 3-3 coming off a win over West Texas A&M to close out their fall season. It’s the first match of the spring for both teams, and could be a pretty good indicator of how the rest of the season plays out for each of them.

*Texas A&M and Georgia are currently tied for 3rd in the coaches poll

Andrew Minnick is the editor of the Equestrian Weekly newsletter. Connect with him on Twitter - @ahminnick