The men’s and women’s polo teams will saddle up for the beginning of their 2006-07 seasons this weekend as the Red welcomes Skidmore to the Oxley Equestrian Center. The men’s team will open the action tonight, while the women’s side will look to corral the Thoroughbreds tomorrow.
In tonight’s matchup, the men’s team will look to build upon a successful 2005-06 season, in which the Red made it to the semifinals of the national championship before falling to Texas A&M, 19-16.
Skidmore should provide a useful test for the men as Cornell defeated Skidmore in all three of the two team’s meetings last year, each time increasing its margin of victory. In the two squads’ final meeting last season, in the Eastern Regional championships, Cornell dominated the Thoroughbreds by a score of 25-6.
“[Skidmore’s] men’s team is going to be relatively the same as it was last year,” said Cornell head coach David Eldredge. “Last year’s team was a very aggressive team that didn’t have very good finishing skills and that was where their issues seem to lie.”
For his own team, Eldredge hopes that the chemistry that developed between last season’s core of starters — junior Brian Fairclough, sophomore Bobby Harvey, and senior captain Stan Feldman — will continue to develop this season.
“I was very happy with how we ended up the year,” Eldredge said. “It was a struggle to get to where we got to with the men last year, because of our youth and inexperience. … It finally came together at the end of the year, and the guys and myself are all very excited for this year and we’re hoping to just pick up right from that spot and continue on, and just improve without taking any steps backward.”
While Eldredge expects Fairclough to continue to provide the Red with a dangerous scoring option as the team’s go-to scorer, he cited the continued progress of Harvey as crucial to the success of this year’s team.
“Bobby has the potential to become something really special as a player. He really did fulfill all the expectations last year,” said Eldredge. “If other teams get to a point where they’re looking to defend Bobby, Brian’s job is just going to be so much easier in scoring and that’s what we’re hoping for. Last year a lot of teams were able to just focus squarely on Brian and it made things difficult for Brian and it made things difficult for the team. As Bobby has grown things have gotten much better for Brian.”
In tomorrow’s game, the women will hope kick off their season on the right note. The Red took two of three meetings against an experienced Skidmore team last year. However, Eldredge expects this year’s Thoroughbreds to be weaker than the side his team faced last year, as Skidmore has lost several key players to graduation.
“Last year the women were a little bit more competitive because they had a couple of seniors on the squad,” Eldredge said. “This year … they’re all good riders and they know the rules but again they end up not having the finishing skills that could raise them to the next level.”
While Skidmore may be lacking in experience, Cornell has an abundance of it. All three of Eldredge’s expected starters, Julie Nicholson, Ariel Katz and Monica Ganley, are seniors. As with his men’s team, Eldredge is excited about the women’s team’s prospects this year, and particularly with the potential of his No. 1 and No. 2 riders, Nicholson and Katz.
“Julie and Ariel are at the point where I think they can step up with a full year’s worth of competition and prove that they are some of the premier players in the intercollegiate polo world,” Eldredge said.
The women advanced to the semifinals of the national tournament last year before falling, 12-9, to Colorado State.