The South Carolina Gamecocks equestrian team lost their chance to repeat as national champions in the NCEA National Championship in Waco, Texas, with a Thursday loss to SMU 10-6.
With what could be considered a dismal regular season, the team finished with a 5-11 record, sliding down and eventually out of the top-10 rankings. Heartbreaking losses have plagued this team throughout the season, but the team is coming into the tournament on a high following a close win over No. 4 Texas A&M in the SEC tournament consolation round.
In that meet, the Gamecocks' key to success was in the hunt seat arena as they swept the Aggies, 9-0, in route to the overall win, 11-8. Senior Samantha Kraus, freshman Lizzie van der Walde and sophomore Bailey Walters all picked up Most Outstanding Performer awards in their respective events. South Carolina brought home more awards from the conference tournament as seniors Abigail Pait and Walters were named to the All-Championship Team in their respective events. Pait and Walters both became the first Gamecocks to be named to this team in their events: Pait in horsemanship and Walters in reining.
Along with the success in their last meet, the Gamecocks are also coming into the national tournament with five riders receiving awards from the SEC that were announced Wednesday. Pait made the cut for the All-SEC team in horsemanship, while freshman Madison Thiel made the All-Freshman team in both horsemanship and reining, and van der Wilde also made the All-Freshman team for equitation on the flat. Also receiving awards for the Gamecocks include junior Bailey Mierzejewski as she was named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and senior Kelsey Urban as she was named to the SEC Community Service Team.
The Gamecocks were named a 7-seed in the national championship and faced 10-seed SMU in the opening round of the tournament 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Their 10-6 loss to the Mustangs took them out of the tournament. However, freshman van der Walde and Thiel had promising national debuts, both winning their points.
"Win or lose, this is a group that's always done things the right way and I think they can hold their heads high knowing that," head coach Boo Major said. "Looking ahead to next season, I think we have a lot to look forward to and I'm excited about the group that we're bringing back and our newcomers."