The annals of sports history are full of great one-two combinations; players great in their own right, but who together made each other exceptional. Ruth and Gehrig, Montana and Rice, Stockton and Malone, Gretzky and, well, anyone. Now Cornell may have a pair of its own to add to the list with the names of Johnson and Markle.
Seniors Senter Johnson and Jeff Markle are the driving force behind Cornell polo’s impressive success these past three years. Winning starting positions on the team during their sophomore year, the two have quickly become one of the most respected and feared combinations in collegiate polo. Johnson and Markle led the Red to victory in the Eastern Regionals last year, and their impressive play earned them both All-East selections.
Much of the success Markle and Johnson have enjoyed stems from the fact that their individual games complement each other so well. Johnson’s ability to hit the ball and out-stick virtually any opponent has made him Cornell’s go-to man for scoring.
“I look at Senter as a player whose one job is to score our goals and finish off anything that comes into the offensive end,” said Markle. “If he had to put it into the goal, I’ll take him over anyone else’s teammate in the country.”
Yet, as Johnson is quick to point out, much of his goal scoring success hinges upon Markle’s solid playmaking and control of the center of the field.
“I’d say Jeff is a much better technical player. He makes every play consistently better, and without Jeff playing and controlling the game, I can’t stay up front and score goals,” explained Johnson
“They’re both quite accomplished players and they feed off each other,” commented head coach David Eldredge ’81. “If one of them is doing well, the other one usually does well and the two tend to pick each other up very quickly.”
Eldredge went on to describe the dilemma the duo poses to opposing teams.
“People are going ‘Oh my God,'” said Eldredge. “‘I just took out who I thought was their best player, but then there’s this other player in there making just as good a play.'”
Another strength that makes Johnson and Markle such a deadly combination on the polo field is the almost instinctive level of communication that exists between them. Each reads the other’s movements and understands the other’s reasoning as if it were his own.
“Pretty much a hundred percent of the time I know what Senter’s doing,” stated Markle. “I can tell you what he’s thinking and I know what he’s going to do, and that’s a huge help when you’re playing against other teams.”
With such great talent comes great expectations, and the one thing that is most evident in Johnson and Markle is confidence.
“If we play our game and stick to the kind of polo we know we have to play, we should beat any team,” stated Markle.
Johnson echoed his teammate’s sentiments, making their goals for the year clear.
“Every game we look at individually, we should be able to win,” he said. “Anything besides winning a national championship will be a disappointment.”
Cornell lost by one goal in the national championship match last year to Colorado State, and the defeat has left a lasting impression on the two.
“It’s always tough to lose by a goal because you think back on each individual play,” said Johnson, “but it gave us a lot of motivation to win this year.”
“The what-ifs start creeping into your head,” commented Markle. “This year’s just a matter of making it happen.”
While Johnson and Markle will try to dispel the “what-ifs” of last year’s defeat, there is no question where Johnson and Markle stand among the elite athletes of Cornell and of the nation. They’re at the top of the list.
Archived article by Paul Testa