March 21, 2017
The 2016-17 season is the 20th anniversary of head coach Boo Major’s tenure at the University of South Carolina. Throughout the postseason, GamecocksOnline.com will look back on some of the biggest victories of Major’s career, including today’s feature, highlighting Carolina’s victory in the inaugural SEC Championship meet against Auburn.
Gamecock Equestrian moved into a new era prior to the 2012-13 academic year, as the Southeastern Conference began sponsoring an official varsity championship in the sport. The milestone would not have happened without the tireless efforts of pioneers such as South Carolina head coach, Boo Major, and because of their work, the Gamecocks would join host Auburn, Georgia and Texas A&M for the conference’s first official conference tournament at the conclusion of the 2012-13 regular season.
Carolina entered the historic event as underdogs sporting the No. 4 seed at the event. Longtime rival Georgia, the tournament’s top seed and the nation’s top-ranked team, greeted Major’s squad in the semifinals. But Carolina was ready; behind MOP winners Kimberly McCormack (equitation on the flat), Katherine Schmidt (equitation over fences) and Johnna Letchworth (horsemanship), the Gamecocks upset the Bulldogs, 10-7, to set up a championship date with the hosts from Auburn.
The Gamecocks were road warriors right from the beginning of the title match, utilizing their undaunted spirit to take a 2-0 lead after horsemanship victories from Letchworth and Alison Ceresani. After Auburn rallied, Carolina took a 5-4 lead into the halfway point of the match thanks to jumping wins from Schmidt, McCormack and Sally Henry.
The Gamecocks stood on the edge of history after winning three of the five points on the flat. Samantha Smith grabbed a crucial point, while Schmidt and Henry, just a freshman, each earned their second tallies of the day.
Now up 8-6, Carolina needed two points from reining to secure the momentous victory. Layla Choate earned the first of the two points, but it wasn’t until the final ride of the day, from senior Audrey Jewell, that the Gamecocks clinched the title. Her narrow 131-130 victory over Auburn’s Stephanie Rucci sealed the deal, making South Carolina the first-ever SEC Equestrian Champion.
The SEC title was the 11th in Gamecock Athletics history, and Carolina would go on to be the school’s first repeat SEC winners one year later. Henry was named flat MOP in the championship meet, while Schmidt was voted to the SEC All-Championship Team on the flat.
WHAT THEY SAID THEN
“It was an amazing feeling (to know we had won). This team has worked so hard this year. This weekend has ben such a roller coaster. We’ve put our entire mind, body and soul into this. It really paid off. It’s a great feeling.”– Amber Henter
“I’m very proud of our team for how well they rode this weekend and for being the first equestrian team to win the SEC Championship. The SEC is the best conference in college athletics, and it’s a great accomplishment for our team to be called SEC champions. Our Flat team really saved their best for last and we really needed them to step up like that for us this weekend. In order to be a championship contender, we knew we needed our Flat team to score some points for this weekend, and they won seven of ten points this weekend and delivered for us. It always comes down to the final event with us and Auburn, and it certainly made for an exciting end to the meet. There was a lot of pressure at that point because everyone knew that the reiners would end up determining the winner of today’s meet, and I was happy for our reiners going out there today and winning the meet for us.”– head coach Boo Major
WHAT THEY SAY NOW
“Winning is always something athletes strive for, but winning a major championship for the very first time is a completely different sensation. Being the very first equestrian SEC champion was a huge feat for all of us at South Carolina. It was a goal of ours at the beginning of the year, and we worked very hard as a team to accomplish the title. We had won before, but this meant something else. We made history, and that will never be taken away from us.”– Amber Henter
“I can’t think of a group that was more deserving. They put their mind to what they wanted to do. That year we felt like we were a little underrated. We knew we were a better team than where we were seeded. We knew we had a strong team, and we had tremendous leadership. That’s the key to success, when you have really strong leadership and very good seniors, and those folks are helping the whole team look at the big picture.”
“They deserved it. They earned every point and got better and better as the weekend progressed. They got more confident, and in the end it was like ‘we’re going to win this no matter what.’ The big thing from that weekend that I remember is when we realized we had finally won. There were tears and happiness and the dumping of the ice bucket. It really felt like a real championship. Auburn did a great job hosting it.”– Coach Major