The Virginia men’s polo team has been the team to beat this season. As three-time defending national champions, Virginia has had its way with all of its opponents so far — that is, until Friday.
In a rematch of last season’s national championship match, the Cornell riders avoided the same outcome, this time winning 21-18.
“We were in possession of the game the whole time. The score didn’t really show that,” said freshman Brian Fairclough.
After Virginia notched the first goal of the game, senior captain Jeff Markle scored on a shot from within the Red’s territory for two points. Cornell went on to build a 6-1 lead, but Virginia was relentless narrowing the margin to 10-9 at halftime.
At the start of the third chukker, the Red built up a five goal lead only to let Virginia close the gap to 16-13 heading into the fourth. Cornell scored the first three goals in that period to take a 19-13 lead, and, while the Cavaliers made it interesting down the stretch, the Red’s lead was insurmountable.
Cornell’s strong performance on Friday perhaps was only marred by its inability to knock Virginia out of the contest early. When mistakes were made, Virginia was right there to capitalize on them.
“It was a real testament to Virginia to stay in the game and keep plugging away at our lead. They gave themselves opportunities to get back in the game,” said Coach David Eldredge ’81. Friday night’s game was an important benchmark for the Red in gauging its chances of winning the national championship this season.
“Virginia is our only competition. We will meet them in the finals,” Fairclough said. “This was important because we wanted to find where we stand against them. It also gives us a chance to see how Brian fares against top teams,” said Eldredge.
Up until this game, the Red had been starting the senior triumvirate of Nick Grew with All-Americans Markle and Senter Johnson. Fairclough had been seeing some action, often coming in for the second half of games.
However, against Virginia, Eldredge embarked on a fact-finding mission, wanting to see how the freshman would react when the pressure was on and the game close. Fairclough and Markle scored five goals apiece to complement yet another scoring outburst from Johnson, who tallied 11.
“I want us to be pushing forward offensively. Even our defensive plays are executed with an offensive mindset and Brian is a little more offensive oriented,” Eldredge said. “I have confidence though that if it doesn’t work out, I have a proven quantity in Nick.”
The team faces another challenge this weekend as they head to down to Charlottesville, to take on Virginia on their home turf. This time the Red will have to demonstrate that they can produce away from home.
Archived article by bBy JON HAUSNER
Sun Staff Writer