After strong finishes at the national championships in April, the men and women’s polo teams return to kick off the new season as the men seek to outpace the Skidmore Thoroughbreds and the women saddle up against the UMass Minutemen.
The action begins Saturday with the women’s face-off against the Minutemen at Oxley Equestrian Center. Cornell dominated UMass, 36-1, in last year’s game, with the Red running up the score to 22-0 by half-time. Although the Minutemen’s current squad is more practiced than the young team the Red faced last season, head coach David Eldredge ’81 expects the Red to stand up to the challenge.
“[The Minutemen] are good riders, they know the game, they just might not have quite the experience our players have at making the finer plays,” he said.
On the men’s side, the team hopes for a repeat of its smothering 44-0 performance last year against the Thoroughbreds. According junior captain Nik Feldman, the game will be a good way to prepare for next week’s game against defending national champions UVA.
“Skidmore will be a game to get warmed up and get everyone moving,” he said. “We have UVA the coming weekend and they’re the No. 1 team from last year. We just want to get out there and get in the groove of things.”
Feldman captains the team alongside senior Branden Van Loon, who was a junior captain last year. Other returning players include sophomore Nick Steig, who was awarded with the MVP award at the USPA Arena Open championship over the summer, and Connor Pardell, who started for the Red in last season’s national semifinal game. Other returning players are also expected to contribute, Feldman said.
“[Senior] Justin Schick will be a big player to watch this weekend,” he said. “He’s been at the top of his game at practice and is a promising asset.”
The women’s squad lost starter Amanda Stern but maintained second-year co-captains senior Ali Hoffman and junior Kailey Eldredge. Fighting for the third starting spot will be three “absolutely fantastic” incoming students plus last season’s alternate Beth LeBow, David Eldredge said.
Hoffman adds that the depth of this year’s team makes it a stronger squad than last year’s group.
“This year we finally have a full starting squad and a second string that can go out and play against top-ranked teams,” she said. “We’ll be getting a lot of competition during practice and not just during games.”
With so few players departed due to graduation, both the men and women’s teams have high hopes of winning the national championships this season. Both teams lost to UVA in the national tournament last year, with the men falling, 28-10, in the semifinals and the women dropping, 17-13, in the finals.
According to David Eldredge, the men want to carry their strong end to last season into their upcoming games.
“For the men in particular it’s picking up from where we left off last year and trying to make a step up to the next level,” he said. “They were a young team last year and this year we’re hoping the maturity kicks in.”
He added that he feels the national runner-up women’s team will be an even more dominant force this year than they were last season.
“We’re coming back with a stronger team we believe than we had last year,” he said. “We feel that we can win our region and then move onto the national picture where we think we’re in amongst four teams in that echelon in the national rankings.”