Gamecocks Drop No. 3 Auburn, 10-9, to Win First SEC Equestrian Meet
BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. - Competing in its first ever Southeastern Conference equestrian meet on Thursday, No. 2 South Carolina edged out third-ranked Auburn, 10-9, at One Wood Farm in Blythewood. The Gamecocks are now 2-0 overall with a 1-0 record in SEC play, while the Tigers fall to 1-1 and 0-1 in the conference.
"This was a big win for us today, no doubt about it," South Carolina head coach Boo Major said. "In order to be a good team, you have to beat good teams, and I think that's what our riders have done two weekends in a row, but especially today against a tough Auburn team. Our girls rode well today, and to get a big win like this on only three days of practice says a lot about this group."
South Carolina jumped out to an early 3-2 lead on Thursday, the Gamecock reining team put on a dominating performance. Senior captain Audrey Jewell scored the first point with a 69-67.5 victory over Auburn's Cheyenne Cracraft, setting the tone for a meet in which South Carolina trailed only once, and that was for 2.5 minutes.
Sophomore Layla Choate scored the second point of the meet, as she defeated the Tigers' Stephanie Rucci, 71.5-71. After Auburn won the next to points to tie the score at 4-4, sophomore Cody McMillion reclaimed the lead for the Gamecocks as she picked up a 71-69 win over Hailey Munger.
"That was a huge momentum boost for us today, because anytime we can go in to the jumping with a lead, we feel really good about how that sets us up for the rest of the meet. Our entire reining team has been terrific and I'm really proud of all of them.."
Holding a one-point lead, Thursday's meet moved down to the jumping ring, where South Carolina and Auburn each claimed two points. Auburn won the first point of the event, followed by a no-decision as redshirt freshman Samantha Smith held Auburn's Griffin Knight to an 80-80 tie, meaning neither team won the point. Auburn won the next point to give the Tigers their first and only lead of the meet of 4-3, but the lead evaporated as freshman Sally Henry and redshirt sophomore Amber Henter combined to win their rides by 20-points. Henry delivered a ten-point victory over Auburn's Christina Lin to the meet at 4-4, and the Gamecocks reclaimed the lead a few minutes later when Henter, South Carolina's Hunt Seat team captain, dropped the Tigers' Megan Bifano by ten points.
"When you look at the raw scores at the end of the meet, the first thing that actually stands out is that Sam's tie ended up keeping Auburn from what would have been the meet-clinching point, so that's one of those situations where a tie really does feel like a win," Major said. "Both Sally and Amber had strong rides to get us those points, but I thought the entire group rode well."
In the second half of Thursday's meet, the Tigers rallied, winning five points and twice tying the score at 5-5, and then again at 6-6.
In Equitation on the Flat, the Gamecocks won three of five points as Henry completed her 2-for-2 day with a 12-point victory over Claire Connaghan. Senior Kimberly McCormack followed Henry with a 14-point win over the Tigers' Jennifer Delman. Junior Kelsey Hart's 75-73 win over Lin gave the Gamecocks a critical late point in Thursday's meet, and secured a 5-4 win for the Hunt Seat team, now 2-0 on the season.
In Horsemanship, Auburn won three of five points, but that would not be enough to take the lead.
After the Tigers won the first point, redshirt Johnna Letchworth picked up her first win of the season with a half-point victory over Auburn's Katsy Leeman, giving the Gamecocks an 8-6 lead. Hart's victory over Lin in Equitation on the Flat extend Carolina's lead to 9-6, with Auburn still in contention for a comeback win.
The Tigers' hopes were dashed moments after Hart's win, as sophomore Sam Chiodo picked up a 75.5-71 victory over Griffin Knight, giving South Carolina its tenth point of the meet and securing the win for the Gamecocks.
"It's take a lot of heart to win these close meets, and I think you saw that from our riders today," Major said. "They kept a positive attitude the entire day, and even on some points we didn't win, I think we still rode well. The girls stayed focused and that paid off."
With the meet already decided, the Tigers won the remaining three points, as the Gamecocks are off to a 2-0 start for the second straight season. Despite losing to South Carolina for the fourth time in 2012 (three dual meets, once at the NCEA National Championships), Auburn's riders claimed all four Most Outstanding Player awards on Thursday - Lindsay Portela (Equitation on the Flat), Jennifer Waxman (Equitation Over Fences), Indy Roper (Horsemanship), Indy Roper (Reining).
South Carolina does not compete until Nov. 3, when the Gamecocks travel to Bishop, Ga. to face the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.