Both the men’s and women’s polo teams competed against very worthy opponents in their respective national championship matches this past weekend. The men — who dropped last year’s final against Virginia 21-19 — beat the defending champion by the same score this time around. The men finished the 2005 season with a 14-5 record and the first national championship for the program since 1992. The women — going for their sixth straight national title — lost to Connecticut by a narrow 17-15 margin.
“For the men, winning the tournament was a crowning of what we’ve been hoping for all season,” said head coach Dave Eldredge ’81. “The two teams — us and Virginia — are two of the most evenly matched teams I’ve ever seen. In the last two years of national championship games, it’s been a 40-40 score. As for the women, I am disappointed we lost, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team or say enough nice things about its effort and heart.”
Eldredge won his 10th overall polo national championship — eight with the women and now two with the men. The men won their last championship in the 1992 tournament against Virginia, by an 18-15 count. Saturday’s win improves the Red’s record in title games against the Cavaliers to 2-6.
“The game against Virginia went basically how we hoped it would,” Eldredge said. “It doesn’t usually happen that way, where it goes how you script it. We did all the little things and we didn’t panic when it got close. They tied us at two different points during the game, but we stayed composed.”
The victory for the men culminated a very strong year for its three starters. All three, including seniors Jeff Markle and Senter Johnson, as well as freshman Brian Fairclough, took home All-East Honors — the first time in Cornell polo history where one team has had three All-East selections. Markle led all Red with nine goals, followed by Johnson with eight — who also was honored as an All-American for his efforts this season.
“This win was really a testament to our two great seniors and the great play of Brian [Fairclough],” Eldredge said. “For Brian to get All-East is so big for a freshman. I don’t think it’s set in yet for him.”
The women were favored to win their sixth consecutive national championship, before being upset by the Huskies. The Red defeated Connecticut on the road a few weeks ago to earn the No. 1 seed in the national tournament, however, it was unable to complete the sweep in Fort Worth,Tex.
In the last few minutes of the fourth chukker, the Huskies hit a shot from beyond the two-point line that was heading wide of the goal. At about five feet from the net, the ball hit a large clump of dirt and ricocheted in, putting the Huskies ahead by four goals. The Red never took the lead again.
“That was a tough, lucky break,” Eldredge said. “Who knows? If they didn’t catch the brake, we might have won the game.”
Yet most of the team was proud of the overall team performance over the weekend and throughout the entire season.
“It was a really great tournament,” said sophomore Ariel Katz. “I am so proud of our girls.They were really tough, even though we just could not catch a bounce in the last chukker of the finals. Hopefully, we’ll get them back next year.”
Looking toward the future for both teams, Eldredge will have to adjust to losing several excellent seniors. The women will graduate all three of its starters, but some of the key alternates from this year’s squad that will be back next season include Katz and classmate Julie Nicholson.
“It is sad to be losing so many seniors,” Eldredge said. “We do have some good kids coming in who we’re looking to turn to. I’m excited about next year and we’ll certainly be ready to climb that ladder again.”
Archived article by Josh Fox
Sun Staff Writer