It was hardly a walk in the park, but both the Cornell men’s and women’s polo teams emerged victorious at the Northeast Intercollegiate Regional Championships during this past weekend in Ithaca.
The Cornell women began the weekend by hosting Skidmore on Saturday afternoon. The Red had no trouble in this one, taking it by a score of 23-5, never trailing at any point. Senior Elena Wicker and junior Emma Eldredge each scored eight goals for Cornell, with senior Anna Winslow adding six.
On Sunday, they faced off against a familiar foe, the University of Connecticut, in the regional final and looked to build on Saturday’s success. The Huskies will host Nationals in early April and needed a win to earn a spot. Head coach David Eldredge ’81 warned his team to be careful as a result of this circumstance.
“This team was very dangerous because they were backed into a corner,” Eldredge said. “They needed a win and would obviously have very much liked to play at home for the national championships. That can make a team that might otherwise be manageable into a very dangerous one.”
The Red came out strong and dominated the first chukker 7-2. While the second was closer, Cornell still led 12-6 at the half and felt comfortable about their play.
The third chukker, though, was a very different story. The Huskies came roaring back with seven goals and trailed by just one going into the fourth chukker, down 14-13. After taking their foot off the gas pedal, the Huskies were dominated by the Red in the final chukker, who took the match 23-14.
Coach Eldredge was very pleased with his team’s responsiveness going into the fourth to finish the Huskies off.
“Our women responded magnificently in the last chukker to win it 9-1, securing the victory,” he said. “That was a very big thing.”
Winslow led the second game with 11 goals, but knows the win – and the season as a whole – was a complete team effort.
“This weekend was an important collaborative effort,” she said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate and performed to the best of their ability. This one was an especially rewarding victory because two of our three starters are seniors, and the regional final was our last home game ever.”
Next up, Cornell aims to defend its national title on April 7, joining several tough teams like Virginia and Texas A&M. Eldredge is confident, but knows it will not be an easy task.
“I feel good, and I like where our women are positioned,” Eldredge said. “I don’t want to be overconfident, though.”
The Cornell men also squared off against the Huskies on Friday night in the regional semifinals. The Red won in convincing fashion, 23-9, led by a remarkable 18-goal night by star junior Ignacio Masias. Cornell led 13-5 at halftime and had no trouble closing out the deal in the second half, setting up a meeting with the Western Ontario University Mustangs in Sunday’s final.
Despite his spectacular performance, Masias credited his teammates for his performance throughout the weekend.
“I was only able to play well because of my teammates’ performance,” he said. “They played really well defensively, and opened up spaces for me on offense.”
Cornell jumped out to an early 4-0 lead on Sunday against Western Ontario, but the Mustangs responded with five straight to close the chukker and take the lead. The Red controlled the second, however, and were able to take an 11-6 lead into halftime. The back and forth nature of the match continued as Western Ontario took the third chukker in decisive fashion, tying the game up at 12 after three chukkers.
Cornell was in a tough spot going into the fourth as a Mustang player was riding one of the region’s most dominant horses. The Red held its own, however and forced the game into a shootout at 15-15.
“The biggest thing about these guys is that they don’t get shaken, they keep their composure,” Eldredge said. “They had the deck stacked against them going into the final chukker — with that amazing horse and all — but they stayed strong and played brilliantly. That’s probably the best chukker of the entire year.”
Like the women, the men will also travel to Connecticut for nationals, and Eldredge believes in his team.
“I feel great about the guys because of their composure and their resiliency,” he said. “No matter who it seems to be, they rise to the occasion, so I feel very good about them going into the national championships.”
Going forward, Masias has nothing but confidence in his team.
“At the beginning of the year, I would have never imagined we would be doing so well, but now I have very high expectations for Nationals,” he said. “We know the competition is going to be strong, but the team’s improvement throughout the year makes me very confident.”