Championship play is coming to Ithaca as Cornell hosts the men and women’s NSPA Northeast Regional Championship this weekend at Oxley Equestrian Center. The women play Harvard tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and University of Connecticut on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The men begin the tournament on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against Skidmore and finish on Sunday against UConn at 1:30 p.m. This year’s regional championship has a round-robin bracket setup: each team plays each other once, and the team with the most wins qualifies for the national championship at the end of April.
The Red’s most formidable opponent in the regional championship is UConn. The men and women have both fallen to the Huskies earlier this season at away games, but came out on top when their opponents came to Ithaca. However, the home field advantage may not matter as much in the tournament.
“It’s going to be a very competitive game for both squads against UConn,” said head coach David Eldedge ’81. “Home advantage becomes equalized because we’re riding half of their horses and half of ours, and that’s where it’s going to really tell which team is working harder.”
Because it is a tournament, UConn and Skidmore will be bringing their own horses for the players to ride in addition to Cornell’s horses. Each game will be split between riding each team’s horses. Harvard will rely on Cornell’s horses.
“Harvard is at the greatest disadvantage of anyone in the tournament because they’re not bringing horses,” David Eldredge said.
The Cornell players do not view playing on the other opponents’ horses as a big challenge.
“We’ve played on UConn’s horses a bunch of times, we know how they work.” said senior captain Ali Hoffman. “I’m not really worried about it, we’re pretty adapted.”
Senior captain Branden Van Loon says that playing on other team’s horses can be a positive aspect to game play.
“I know the horses I’m going to play pretty well,” he said. “There are situations I like playing the other teams horses more because you don’t know them as well, so you ask them for everything that they will give you, whereas with our own horses, I personally go into some plays certain ways because I know that horse isn’t going to have the bulk or turn to outmaneuver the horse I’m going up against. I actually kind of look forward going into tournaments like that, because the new horses pose a challenge but it can also make the game a little bit better.”
Although the Huskies are the Red’s biggest opponent, both squads are preparing themselves well for the first game against the Crimson and Skidmore.
“Harvard is going to be a good game to calm down our nerves before playing UConn,” Hoffman said. “It will be an indicator of how sharp we start out. We want to keep the game in our control and not let others dictate the game.”
The men’s team holds a similar view.
“When we go out against Skidmore we want to make sure everything is as perfect as we can make it,” Van Loon said.
Although the men are playing back-to-back games, this is not a cause of much concern, according to the senior captain.
“If there’s any apprehension about having to play back to back games, it’s really overshadowed by the fact that we’re coming out with a chip on our shoulder.” Van Loon said. “Right now the team is feeling pretty good about it.”
The women are also determined to come out with the right mindset and focus.
“We know we need to put a specific amount of effort in to clinch that win,” Hoffman said. “I think for us, we need the mindset to come out and make them play our game and play to our standard. They have the tendency to foul a lot, which is good for us because we can capitalize on that opportunity and stick to our game.”
Eldredge mentioned the women may have slight edge over UConn because they have yet to see senior Amanda Stern play, who was studying abroad in the fall when Cornell last faced the Huskies.
“We have seen the entirety of their team but they have not seen ours,” he said. “If there was any edge, maybe that’s a slight one.”
The men plan to keep up the game play they have all season, but make changes as necessary.
“When we go out against UConn we’re going to … leave everything on the field and hope for the best,” Van Loon said. “We’re looking at keeping the field more open in terms of blocked passes and shots; how much we change is dependent on how the game is doing. Obviously we’re going to go out there and play our game, but there’s a couple of variations that may come out of that.”
If Cornell does not win the regional, there is still a chance to make it to nationals through a wildcard spot, which is given to a team based on overall season and regional performance. However, Eldredge does not want it to come to that.
“Both teams feel like we can definitely achieve our goal, which is to win the region, and they’re going to go out to try to do all the proper things necessary,” he said. “They’re going out with the mindset that we’re not looking for a bailout, we’re looking for the win to make sure we’re in.”
Original Author: Andrea Sielicki