WACO, Texas - The pursuit to perfection was completed Saturday as the No. 1 Auburn equestrian team captured the 2019 NCEA Championship, edging No. 6 Georgia, 8-7, at the Extraco Events Center in Waco, Texas.
Locked at 7-7 with one ride remaining in Equitation Over Fences, senior Ashton Alexander put her experience to the test and came away with the biggest point of her career. The Ocala, Fla., product was the final rider of the day and came away with 255-242 win for the title.
"I made sure that everyone knew at the start of the day I didn't want it to all come down to me, but that obviously wasn't the case," Alexander said. "I was slightly terrified to say the least. I sat by myself and took a deep breath and went in with an 'all or nothing' attitude. I didn't know if my ride was good enough until the scores came in. Afterwards, it was tears of joy. To know that I was able to do it and to have all my teammates there was amazing."
"This was different territory for us this year with it being so close," head coach Greg Williams said. "Georgia has had a strong week so it was so unbelievable to see our team regroup, stay focused and pull off this win. Some of the biggest rides of the year happened today and I can't be more proud."
With the win, the Tigers finished the 2018-19 campaign with an unblemished 18-0 record. The feat marks the first time any equestrian program has finished a full season without a loss. The title also is the program's sixth overall and third in the last four years.
"This has never happened in the sport, so it shows how hard it is to go undefeated," Williams said. "This is not only a tribute to the talent on this team, but also how they bought into being one team and developing the leadership."
The 2018-19 senior class finished their careers on the Plains with three NCEA championships, two Southeastern Conference titles and a 61-10 overall record over four years.
"This is a very special group," Williams said. "When they came in as freshmen, they really bought into the seniors that year and won a national title. They found the importance of that when it was their turn to lead and it's evident in how their four years shaped up."
The Tigers opened up the day with a 3-1 win in Equitation on the Flat. The Bulldogs snagged the first point before sophomore Taylor St. Jacques scored a 245, besting Ali Tritschler's 240. Senior Hayley Iannotti had a round-best 246 for her point and freshman McKayla Langmeier's 238 was enough to top Hayley Mairano's 207.
Georgia responded with a 3-1 win Horsemanship to lock the score at 4-4. Auburn had a huge ride from sophomore Taylor Searles, scoring a 227.5 for a match high. The win was the Scottsdale, Ariz., product's 16th of the year, setting a new program record for season wins in the event.
The Bulldogs edged the Tigers in Reining, 2-1, to take a 6-5 advantage heading into the final event. Auburn senior Blair McFarlin capped her impressive career with a 211.5-208 win. Sophomore Terri-June Granger earned an important tie, riding to a 218 for another huge score and taking the draw with UGA's Annabeth Payne.
"Taylor Searles and Terri-June Granger had big scores for us in Western," Williams said. "Getting those rides from a pair of underclassmen really helped us maintain momentum into the final event."
Auburn picked up big points from St. Jacques and Langmeier in Fences prior to Alexander's ride. St. Jacques earned a match-best 266 in her win, while Langmeier topped Mairano with a 248.
#1 AUBURN 8, #6 GEORGIA 7
Equitation Over Fences
Taylor St. Jacques (AU) def. Emma Mandarino (UGA), 266-205
Ali Tritschler (UGA) def. Caitlin Boyle (AU), 213-120
McKayla Langmeier (AU) def. Hayley Mairano (UGA), 248-204
Ashton Alexander (AU) def. Maddy Darst (UGA), 255-242
Equitation on the Flat
Maddy Darst (UGA) def. Caitlin Boyle (AU), 241-239
Taylor St. Jacques (AU) def. Ali Tritschler (UGA), 245-240
Hayley Iannotti (AU) def. Madison Newman (UGA), 246-228
McKayla Langmeier (AU) def. Hayley Mairano (UGA), 238-207
Sara Lewis (UGA) def. Kelsey Jung (AU), 223-221.5
Taylor Searles (AU) def. Lexie Lane (UGA), 227.5-223
Graysen Stroud (UGA) def. Lauren Diaz (AU), 224.5-216
Maddie Anger (UGA) def. Deanna Green (AU), 222.5-220.5
Graysen Stroud (UGA) def. Deanna Green (AU), 209.5-193.5
Blair McFarlin (AU) def. Courtney Blumer (UGA), 221.5-208
Terri-June Granger (AU) tied Annabeth Payne (UGA), 218-218
Jordan Carpenter (UGA) def. Ali Fratessa (AU), 214-201.5