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Equestrian March Madness

Jackie Dwelle
Equine Studies Instructor

While Carolina, Duke and the other 62 teams were fighting for the Division I NCAA Basketball Championships riders in the St. Andrews Equestrian program were experiencing much the same process as they worked for a slot at the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) National Championships in Lexington, KY May 5 – 8, 2011. IHSA offers competition in hunter seat and western for both teams and individuals.

Many parallels exist between the road to the Elite 8 and the Final Four and the path equestrians must ride to reach Semi Finals and Nationals. St. Andrews IHSA Western Team has been riding down that path with tenacity and determination this semester.

Intercollegiate basketball is contested within one of the 30 NCAA conferences. IHSA competition is divided geographically into 9 zones and 36 regions. St. Andrews Western Team competes in Zone 4.5, Region 3. (Zones with a fraction are a combination of two zones.)

Basketball teams must participate in 33 - 34 games, conference and non-conference and either win their conference or finish strongly to stand a chance of competing in the NCAA Championships. Equestrian teams must accrue points within their region with only the top team in each region advancing to Semi Finals. This year the St. Andrews Western Team showed at 9 shows both home and away with each show offering six qualifying divisions contributing to the team score.

The road to the Final Four begins with the selection of the 64 teams that will compete in the tournament. The 30 conference winners receive an automatic slot, as does the winner of the Ivy League Championship. The selection committee awards the remaining “at large teams” subjectively. Members of basketball’s top conferences The ACC, the Big 10 and so on do not know if they will be selected until the announcement is made on Selection Sunday.

There is no subjectivity for Equestrians - either you make it to Semi Finals or you don’t. During the regular season the St. Andrews Western Team accumulated a total of 275 points (beating their nearest rival NCSU by three points) to win the championship in Zone 4.5 Region 3.

For basketball teams moving into the NCAA Tourney it is a process of advance or be eliminated. For Equestrians the same is true. The regional (conference) winner goes to one of three Semi Finals and the top three teams from each Semi Final progresses to the National Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

NCAA versus IHSA
Competitors & Structure
Qualifying Process
Downside of Process
Men’s Division I Basketball 30 Conferences plus Ivy League. Objective for conference winners, subjective for everyone else. Win conference or suffer “in the bubble” until Selection Sunday.
IHSA Western 36 Regions in 9 Zones. 2,602 individual competitors. Objective must win region, or be in top three at Semi Finals. No “at large” teams picked. Only this year’s performance counts.

How Far Did The SAPC Western Team Go?

The Western Team was beaten at Semi Finals. Coach Carla Wennberg commented, “We are proud to have the opportunity to go and compete at the Semi Finals. It is a test which we accomplished by riding properly. When you go to Semi Finals you are up against riders who are as good as you and strong competitors. Our riders rode smart and correctly with good pattern and rail work, there were a few glitches that can make a huge difference at this level. The three schools that advanced all brought horses to the competition, which is an advantage; there is always an element of luck involved which you cannot prepare for. We learned a lot and will put that to good use for next year.”

Click here for the St. Andrews complete competition results.

About St. Andrews Presbyterian College

An innovative and bold academic venture, the distinctive character of St. Andrews has been marked by an interdisciplinary curriculum, a highly acclaimed college press, an award-winning pipe band, national champion equestrian teams, and first-rate scholarship. In addition to classes on the main campus, adult learners also choose the Center for Adult and Professional Studies opportunities through St. Andrews @ Sandhills and St. Andrews ONLINE.

On Aug. 29, 1958, the merger between Presbyterian Junior College and Flora Macdonald College became official with the formation of St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. Further information may be obtained by visiting the College's website www.sapc.edu, calling 800-763-0198 or sending an e-mail to info@sapc.edu.


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A branch of Webber International University
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Laurinburg, NC 28352
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