By Jeffrey Swindoll
For the majority of the 2014-15 season, Baylor equestrian held the No. 1 national ranking. Big 12 conference teams and out-of-conference teams alike wanted to take them down. The pressure eventually wore down the Bears, causing them to fall into a multiple-meet losing streak.
Baylor found new life toward the end of the season, triumphing in the Big 12 championship in Fort Worth this year. The Bears recent revitalization has head coach Ellen White feeling very confident about her team. The Bears are the two-seed in the NCEA national championship starting today and ending Saturday at the Extraco Event Center in Waco.
“I’m thinking we’re going to win this thing,” White said. “We are looking great. Everybody’s really riding well. Our horses just did all the evaluations today; they’re all looking good, they traveled well. So, no excuses. We either ride and make this happen, or we just messed up.”
Under White, the Bears won their first and only national title in 2012. White remembers that team very well, but this year’s team may be even better than her national championship team, she said.
“We’re just that good this year,” White said. “We actually have a few freshmen that we are going to be putting in. And everybody that rode last year just has another year of experience. And we’ve had some people step up and take some leadership roles, which makes a huge difference as well. I’m not complaining about how they’re riding at all.”
The Bears start their campaign in the second round, meaning they have a bye in the first round of action. The bye will allow Baylor to prepare better at the championship, providing a more clear picture of what to expect when they begin their run for their second national title.
“[Having a first-round bye] will give us an opportunity to see what the judges are looking for and kind of liking,” White said. “That will be our chance to kind of strategize.”
Seniors on this year’s roster are the last class that was part of the national championship-winning team in 2012. White said this is her best group of seniors in terms of skill and experience that she has ever had at Baylor. The seniors will relish this last opportunity to achieve another national title.
“This is my last meet,” senior Gillian Chant said. “Going into the second round, it could be my last time showing, so I definitely want to leave it all out there. There’s no room to be reserved here. You can’t be cautious, you just have to go all out. I’m just ready to work for the team. it’s really great to be on such a good team. You feel confident when you go out there that every girl is going to do their part to be a winning part of this championship.”
Chant said the team struggled through some deep valleys this year, challenging the team to dig deeper. However, the Bears’ fight in winning the Big 12 championship exemplified the character of the team, she said.
“With that rough stretch, we saw it coming,” Chant said. “It’s so tough to win on the road with equestrian. So you really just take the good parts from that. You can’t linger on it. It’s just great being on a team that can rebound like that, and we never get down on ourselves. It was great to come back and win the Big 12 Championship.”
Bright and early at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Baylor faces the winner of the first round meet between seven-seed TCU and 10-seed Oklahoma State, both of which are Big 12 schools the Bears beat earlier in the year. Their meet takes place today.