March 28, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- They've been around since 2002. They've won national titles. Friday, the Auburn equestrian team reaches another milestone when it will host the first SEC Championships.
That's not lost on rider Elizabeth Benson.
"I feel like we're finalized as a big SEC sport. That we're hosting it, that we're the first ones to do it, is a big thing for Auburn," Benson said.
SEC presidents approved making equestrian a conference championship sport last spring. The four SEC equestrian schools -- Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M -- represent some of the best of the college sport. Georgia is ranked No. 1 nationally. Auburn is No. 2. South Carolina is No. 6. Texas A&M is No. 8.
In the SECs, Auburn is the No. 1 seed, and will face No. 4-seed Texas A&M at 10 a.m. Friday following opening ceremonies at 9:40 a.m. at the Auburn University Horse Center. Second-seed Georgia faces No. 3-seed South Carolina in the other head-to-head meeting. The consolation round is at 10 a.m. Saturday followed by the championship round at 2.
Auburn coach Greg Williams says the conference championship will help prepare the Tigers for the nationals in April. But simply having the SEC Championships is special, too.
"It's something we worked for quite a long time," he said. "It's quite an eye-opener, too, in what all goes in to hosting a championship meet."
And then there's the actual competition.
"With the seedings like they are, I know it could be anybody's game," Williams said. "I know I like our chances a lot. We're really strong as a team. Sometimes we have had our Western bail us out. Sometimes we've had our Hunt Seat bail us out."
The SECs is strictly team. At the nationals, the disciplines are split.
"One thing we've pushed for at Auburn is competing as a team. That's something we're really strong at, but at nationals, Hunt Seat and Western are split off," he said. "One side can't help out the other. Our biggest strength is how we compete as one team."
Auburn has strength in numbers. Indy Roper will be a favorite in Western.
"She's an All-American and a strong team leader. She's been an incredible rider. You can always be looking toward her on the Western side," Williams said. "Stephanie Rucci will be strong on horsemanship."
Lindsay Portela is a senior in Hunt Seat, but younger teammates will also contribute.
"We've had a freshman who has had phenomenal success in Elizabeth Benson. Christina Lin. She's really strong in high-pressure events. She doesn't get rattled. She's always good in the post season."
•Details on Auburn competitors here.
•More facts, parking information and live scoring are here.
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