WACO, Texas- The Texas A&M equestrian team won three of its four head-to-head matches on day two of three at the Varsity Equestrian National Championships at the Heart O’ Texas Fair Complex on Thursday.
The top-ranked A&M western team (14-1) won both its matches to position itself for a shot at the national title on Friday. The Aggies will face upstart No. 7 seed South Carolina for the western team national championship starting at 2 p.m.
The western riders emerged from their in-progress 2-2 quarterfinal draw with Baylor at the beginning of the day to capture the match, 5-3. The Aggies won the reining events, 3-1, on Thursday morning to escape the feisty eighth-seeded Bears.
Sophomore Amanda Ryan (Ramona, Calif.) and freshmen Maggie Gratny (Leavenworth, Kan.) and Maddi Williams (Valley View) rose to the occasion in their- head-to-head reining quarterfinal matches to lift the team into the semifinals.
After evading a 2-0 deficit to Baylor in the quarterfinals, A&M found itself in the same predicament early on in their semifinal match on Thursday against No. 5 seed New Mexico State.
A&M’s two winningest reining riders on the season dropped their matches to put A&M in a daunting 2-0 hole. However, just like in the morning session, Amanda Ryan and Maddi Williams stepped up to the plate and pulled the Aggies out of the fire by winning their reining matches.
In horsemanship, sophomore Tonna Brooks (Newberg, Ore.) and freshman Caroline Gunn (Greensburg, Ind.) redeemed earlier mistakes in the show to convincingly capture their head-to-head matches. The Aggies dropped the other two horsemanship matches however, making the final team score a deadlock at 4-4. The Aggies earned the right to ride for the championship by a miniscule three points after the cumulative judges scores were added together and the lowest score for each team dropped.
The fifth-seeded A&M hunter seat team (10-6) dropped a 5-3 decision to No. 4 seed Auburn during the morning session, sending them into the consolation round. The Aggies bounced back admirably, squeaking out a 4-3 win over Fresno State at night thanks to a 158.5-132 match-clinching ride by freshman Lindsey Smith (West Friendship, Md.) over fences.
The Aggies hunter seat riders will face No. 2 seed Oklahoma State in the fifth-place match starting at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
By virtue of capturing spots in both the hunter seat and western national championship matches, South Carolina has already clinched its second overall VENC team title. The Aggies are assured of finishing no worse than third and hold the right to finish second in their own hands. Should the Aggies finish second, it would be their highest finish since winning the inaugural event in 2002.