The Texas A&M equestrian team is not going to get caught up with the fact that its first-round matchup in the Southeastern Conference championship is against a team it has lost to twice already.
No. 2 A&M opens the SEC championship against No. 8 Georgia at 9 a.m. Friday at the Hildebrand Equine Complex, home of the Aggies for five years. No. 1 Auburn faces No. 5 South Carolina in the other semifinal. The consolation is at 9 a.m. Saturday with the title to be decided at 1 p.m Saturday.
“We don’t get too consumed with who we are competing against,” said Texas A&M coach Tara McKay. “We are going to ride the horses, and we are not going to change a game plan based on what the other team does. We just go do a job, and it’s the same job no matter who we are competing against.”
Georgia won 11-8 at A&M in November and 12-8 at home in February, and although the Aggies are concentrating on themselves, beating the Bulldogs would be a bonus.
“They got the first two but we are going to get this one,” said senior Rebekah Chenelle. “We lost to them both times this year, and it makes us more mad, so when you go in the ring you can make a statement or not make a statement.”
Chenelle is one of two Aggies who will ride in two events – hunter seat flats and fences. The other is sophomore Caroline Dance, and combined, the two will play a big role by accounting for four of the 20 points up for grabs.
“The last meet of fall semester, and It kind of crumbled, and we spent time wondering why but we didn’t want it to hold us back,” senior Sarah Orsak said. “The away loss didn’t bother me as much as the home because we hadn’t lost at home in a while. Coming back this semester, its a totally different team attitude and we’re on an upward track.”
Chenelle and Orsak both were on the national championship team two years ago, but have yet to win a SEC championship. In fact, no A&M equestrian team has won an SEC title, which speaks for the competition more than anything.
“Pressure is on because we are the only SEC team not to have won SECs and this is my last year, so we are going all in,” Orsak said. “[The] year we won the national title, we went into SECs and came out third. That seems to be our trend, every year I’ve been here, lose the first day and win the second, now we are going to try to win both days.”
A&M is 9-4 overall with two losses to Georgia and No. 1 Auburn. Georgia is 4-6 overall, but was 3-3 in the SEC. Auburn is 13-0, and South Carolina is 6-6 and 1-5.
“[Not winning SEC] is always kind of lurking over our shoulder,” McKay said. “It gives you an idea how tough SEC is. Only overall national champions [since format started in 2015] have been SEC teams. So this conference is tough.”
If the Aggies are to buck the trend, they will have to get a strong performance from their horsemanship fivesome. Seniors Orsak, Ashley Sioco and Katie Conklin are joined by juniors Ashley Davidson and Alex Marlow. Davidson has twice been named SEC rider of the month.
“We have a very seasoned horsemanship group,” McKay said. “Most competed last year and ended really strong, and they are a strong group of girls not only riding but mentally, they are pretty tough, and that is part of the sport.”