Let’s start with the not so surprising news: it’s April and the Cornell men’s and women’s polo teams are the favorite for a national title.
Now consider this: for the first time ever the tournament will be held on East Hill at Oxley Equestrian Center begining this afternoon and continuing until the championship games on Saturday afternoon.
After a six year crusade, head coach David Eldredge ’81 had convinced the polo governing bodies to move the get-together from Texas to Ithaca.
“We were very excited. It was huge,” an exuberant coach said recalling the moment he learned that Cornell would be the hosts of the annual tournament.
The tournament had been held for the past eight years at a Texas ranch, courtesy of a benefactor. Originally designed to be a neutral site, the grounds soon became home to Texas A&M, a situation which raised some controversy among collegiate polo teams.
The first game is slated for 5:30 p.m. today and pits Colorado State against Washington State, the winner of the west regional. The Rams are heavy favorites, even after falling to Texas A&M in the regional finals. Despite a costly regular season loss to UVA, the team’s overall consistency garnered it an at large bid. The winner of the match will draw the Aggies on Tuesday evening at 7:30.
The Red will see its first action in the women’s bracket when the riders do battle with UC-Davis, a squad that heavily improved from last year but still lacks the talent level to be a threat on the national level.
“We should win handily,” a confident Eldredge remarked.
The challengers bring a style of play similar to Connecticut, the Red’s eastern rival. Cornell beat the Huskies by significant margins in two contests this year.
In the Tuesday night cap Texas A&M will play the winner of the Colorado State versus Washington State game. The experienced-laden Aggies should advance to the finals.
On Thursday, the action heats up on the women’s side. The early game features the Aggies against the Cavaliers in a clash of perennial powerhouses.
“This could be a very interesting game. Virginia is always going to be tough,” Eldredge observed.
The Aggies are known for being scrappy, as they defeated a tough Colorado State team in the regional finals. Last year Texas A&M gave the Red riders a scare in the tournament by opening an early first chukker lead. Cornell overcame the deficit en route to bringing home the championship.
The second game, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. features Cornell and Virginia in the men’s semifinals. The Red has won each of its dates with the formidable Cavaliers this year by no less than five goals. But Eldredge is not overconfident.
“They were all close games. We just have to stick to our game plan,” he remarked.
And that means relying on senior Jeff Embow to slow down the pace of the game to control Virginia’s more helter-skelter style. Two of the Cavaliers’ top players are outdoor-trained so the club is naturally faster than the Red.
The finals are set for Saturday, 1:00 p.m. for the women and 3:00 p.m. for the men.
Summing up the odds, Eldredge sees his chances for adding more hardwood to his collection likely.
Said the coach, “The women have an excellent chance. They have proved they could beat everyone. The men have a bit of a tougher road, but I am confident in them,” Eldredge said.
Key for the men will be playing Virginia in the semifinals a tougher opponent than other favorite Texas A&M will draw. Eldredge hopes this will make his troops sharper than the Aggies come Saturday.
Archived article by Gary Schueller