Cornell polo had a perfect weekend, with the men’s team dominating throughout its Friday night victory over Valley Forge Military Academy, 24-18, and the women’s team putting together its most complete game of the year in its come from behind 16-14 win Saturday against one of the best teams in the country, Virginia.
The week leading up to the contest against VFMA, the men’s team doubted junior starter Stan Feldman would be ready to play because of a sprained knee. By game time, Feldman assured head coach David Eldredge ’81 that he was up to playing. Eldredge agreed to reexamine the injury after each chukker, but Feldman’s desire to play was the determining factory in keeping him in for the entire game.
“I just had an itch to play,” Feldman said. “I didn’t want to sit and watch.”
The game started out with the Red constantly attacking on offense, following its game plan of forcing Valley Forge to play from behind. The offensive run-and-gun strategy exposed VFMA to be as adept at stopping Cornell as the NFL drug policy is at keeping running back Ricky Williams in check, with the Red jumping out to 5-2 lead after the first chukker and a 13-5 lead at the half. Led by sophomore Brian Fairclough, who registered 16 goals in the contest, Cornell kept the pressure coming at the start of the second half and extended its lead to 18-9 with one chukker left.
While Cornell started the chukker with two unanswered goals, it slipped into cruise control and VFMA surprisingly made a game out of it. Valley Forge quickly made it 20-14 and then 21-17 with just over two minutes to go. Senior starter Will Yang reasserted the Red’s dominance by tapping in a goal with 1:45 to go and then another goal with 50 seconds left to end the scoring at 24-18.
While the VFMA comeback attempt added some excitement to the game, neither Eldredge nor his players worried about the outcome.
“I never felt the game was getting out of hand,” Eldredge said. “I took it as proof of why we need to attack. As soon as we took off the pressure, they were all of a sudden putting up goals.”
One of the benefits of Cornell’s attack mentality was forcing VFMA to commit more fouls than normal and giving the Red more scoring opportunities off throw-ins and penalty shots. Despite griping from some of Valley Forge’s players, Eldredge feels the game was called fairly.
“It was a messy game for sure,” Eldredge said. “Our style of attacking forced them to try and stop us, which led to a messier game than I’d like to see.”
The women’s team meanwhile defeated national powerhouse Virginia Saturday night in a game that almost didn’t happen. The Virginia team had a car accident on its trek up to Ithaca and was delayed for two hours near the Pennsylvania and New York border. The Cavaliers still wanted to play, however, and with just over an hour delay, the match got underway.
Eldredge had anticipated this match as a good measure of whether his team had put everything together and was ready to compete. He was obviously pleased with what he saw.
“The goal was putting together four chukkers,” Eldredge said. “We had an awesome fourth chukker, I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
The game was close throughout, with the teams tied at three after one chukker and then again at seven at halftime. Neither team was able to establish control of the game, but Virginia led 11-9 after three chukkers. This adversity was exactly what Cornell needed to prove that it was able to play a full game and pull out a victory. Within the first 10 seconds of the fourth chukker, sophomore Ariel Katz scored a breakaway goal to get the Red back within one.
The goal was a sign of things to come, since it was just two minutes later that sophomore Julie Nicholson put the Red ahead 12-11. Virginia showed its resiliency as well by tying up the game and then taking a 13-12 lead with 3:49 to go. Forced to make another comeback, Cornell acted quickly and Nicholson scored a two-point penalty shot just 20 seconds later.
With Cornell up 15-14 and exactly 1:01 left, Virginia was given a penalty shot. Off the missed shot, the rebound bounced into the corner and both teams went into rotation to get control of the ball. With 42 seconds to go, junior Monica Ganley cleared the ball and then Katz followed the ball downfield to walk in the final goal with 12 seconds left.
“It was amazing,” Katz said. “It was really important for us to know we could win.”
The challenge for Cornell now is to build upon the momentum of this victory and continue to improve before playoffs. If the Red go on to win another national championship this season, it will be hard to overlook this game as the turning point in its season.
“This win gave them so much confidence,” Eldredge said. “It’ll definitely help with our run into the playoffs.”
Archived article by Tim Perone