Spring Break was good to the polo teams with both squads earning berths to the 2006 USPA intercollegiate national championships during their respective regional tournaments.
With both regional tournaments being held in Ithaca, the men won the Eastern Regional championship and were awarded the No. 4 seed for nationals. Although the women fell to UConn in the regional final, they also received the No. 4 seed as a wild card.
The men came out strong in their first regional match against Skidmore, leading by 13 goals at the half before running away with the 25-6 victory. Cornell played the entire game without sophomore Brian Fairclough, who was sidelined by head coach David Eldredge ’81 in an attempt to ease the talented but emotional player into the significant tournament.
“I decided to go with [senior] Will Yang,” Eldredge said. “Brian sat out because some of his emotions from weeks before did not demonstrate the way we want to represent ourselves.”
In its second match of the three-way round robin, the Red took on UConn – a team Cornell dominated 29-11 on March 4. At least for the first chukker, Eldredge decided to keep Fairclough on the bench once again.
“Brian has been very anxious in big games,” Eldredge said. “I wanted to let him feel his way into the flow of the game.”
After Cornell led by four goals early on, it was Fairclough who told Eldredge to let the other players finish what they started.
“Brian decided to let the other guys play,” Eldredge said. “He told me if I needed him, he was ready, but he felt the team was in pretty good shape.”
The Red maintained its four-goal lead after the third chukker, and Eldredge gambled by deciding to let Yang finish the game.
It looked like the decision may have been a mistake when UConn climbed within two goals with under two minutes left to play, but junior Stan Feldman scored with 1:20 left in the game to secure the win. UConn would score a late goal to make the final 13-11.
The victory was huge for Cornell, as it needed to win the regional to secure its spot in the national tournament. Playing without Fairclough gave the Red’s other players a chance to step into the spotlight and prove that the team could be successful without its star.
“I was very happy they got a chance to play. It put pressure on Stan and [freshman Bobby] Harvey to carry the team,” Eldredge said. “Hopefully it showed Brian that the guys can step it up. Now he will feel a lot less pressure.”
The women also started off their tournament against Skidmore, a team that the Red have had mixed success against over the course of the season. This time, Cornell owned the Thoroughbreds, earning a dominating 20-4 victory.
“They did everything I wanted them to do,” Eldredge said. “We were firmly in control the entire match.”
Eldredge even got the chance to play seniors Aisling Garcia and Heidi Barreiro, two players who have not seen a lot of action this season.
The Red could not relish the semifinal victory for too long, as defending national champion UConn awaited in the final. Cornell needed a strong performance to ensure a decent seed for nationals.
Early on the Red played the Huskies tough and went into halftime trailing 9-7 – a slim margin against a team that beat Cornell on four occasions earlier in the season.
The second half proved to be a different story and UConn seemed to score on every opportunity – earned or rewarded.
“The luck of the ball was not with us,” Eldredge said. “Some instances showed us that fortune is often with the ones at the top of the pile.”
The Red continued to fight before UConn eventually ran away with a 21-14 victory – the same score as the previous match between the squads on March 12.
“We gave UConn all they could handle,” Eldredge said. “The are extremely talented. There is a reason they are No. 1.”
If the two teams meet for a sixth time this season, it will be in the national title game, as the tournament draw placed the squads on opposite sides of the bracket.
Archived article by Patrick Blakemore
Sun Staff Writer