Gamecocks Equestrian Targets SEC Championship Three-peat
There has been one name on the Southeastern Conference Equestrian Championship trophy since it became a sponsored sport by the league in June 2012.
South Carolina won the title in 2013 at Auburn and on its home course last year in Blythewood. Going into the SEC Championship that begins Friday when the No. 2 seeded Gamecocks face off against No. 3 seed and host Texas A&M, there is no desire to let someone else etch their name into the record books.
“It’s been unbelievable for what our class has brought to the team and program,” senior Sam Chido said. “We’ve been gifted with great coaches and teammates along the way. We want to keep the title and not know what it feels like to lose at the SEC championship, but we’re going to have to fight all the way through.”
The senior class is nine deep and they feel like they have something to prove. The equestrian team became the first South Carolina team to win back-to-back SEC championships before the women’s basketball team accomplished that feat this season.
So, wanting a three-peat is in only natural.
“It feels awesome to be the only team to have won it, and we’re definitely hungry to defend it,” senior Katherine Schmidt said. “We feel like we have to prove the last two years weren’t a fluke and bring it back to South Carolina again.”
South Carolina is 9-3 overall and 4-2 in SEC play. The Gamecocks are ranked No. 1 in the country and have held that position for four consecutive weeks. Last season, they held the No. 1 ranking for 20 consecutive weeks before losing the national championship to Georgia in a tiebreaker.
That success is tied directly to this senior group.
Coach Boo Major lauded the group and all they’ve accomplished.
“This senior group means a lot because of their leadership qualities and ability to compete,” Major said. “Many of them have competed since the time they were freshmen. At this level, you can’t beat experience. They will be hard to replace. We’ve had strong groups before, but this group has left it’s marks, being national championship contenders every year and SEC champions every year.”
Schmidt might be the most decorated of the seniors. The Ridgefield, Conn., native competes in two events – equitation on the flat and equitation over fences. She is the program’s all-time win leader with 95 and second all-time in MVPs (26).
But she feels it’s been a collaborative effort by this senior class to make the Gamecocks a national title contender every year.
“A lot of us made an immediate impact when we arrived as freshmen,” she said. “We’ve gained invaluable experience since then. We’ve travelled together and competed together, so we’ve bonded and become very good at what we do. Hopefully, we can lead the team to more successful seasons, but first we have to handle the SEC Championship this weekend.”
Chido, three-time captain Amber Henter, Layla Choate and Cody McMillion have been some of the key senior contributors.
If that success is going to continue, they will have to win on a course on which they lost on Feb. 21. The difference this go round will be the playing field will be more level. During the regular season, teams have to compete on the host school’s horses.
That is not the case in the SEC Championship. All four teams shipped horses to College Station for the event. South Carolina and Texas A&M will ride the horses from Auburn and Georgia.
“Home course advantage is very strong in equestrian, but I think Texas A&M being on its home turf creates a lot of pressure,” Chido said. “I know we felt that last year when it was held in Blythewood, just because we were home. The playing field is level here because you don’t get to ride your own horses. Just being here, it’s fresh in our mind for what the facility is like, what the course is like, so I think it will help a good bit.”