So often, a team’s fate in the playoffs is decided not by an overall body of work, but by momentum going into the playoffs. This past weekend, both the men’s and women’s polo teams were coming off losses. Both teams, however, avoided going into the Eastern Regional championships on losing streaks as the men came away with a 16-14 win against Gardnertown, while the women secured an 11-8 win over the HTM Polo Club.
Coming off a last-second loss to Toronto two weekends ago, the men’s team came out of the gate determined and ready to go.
“We started off very well in the first half,” said head coach David Eldredge. “They clicked very well together. Jesse Llop, [senior] Stan Feldman and [sophomore Bobby] Harvey started. The good start was the big thing.”
The fast-paced Red jumped out to an early lead, efficiently executing its way to a big half time lead.
“The guys were really ready,” Eldredge said. “It was a great night coming out of the shoot. … Bobby Harvey played a very good all-around game. I would say he was the one that really helped carry the day for us.”
During half time, however, Gardnertown tweaked its game plan in an effort to stymie the Red’s brisk offense. To the detriment of the Red, the pace of the game — and its lead — slowly started to dissipate. Eldredge pointed out that the slower pace allowed Gardnertown to crawl back into the match.
“In the second half we didn’t react as well to the adjustments that they made in their play,” Eldredge said. “That was the difference in what was going on with us for everything. It was just a situation where the boys didn’t execute as well in the third chukker. Maybe a couple of goals got them rattled and our execution got broken down. Our momentum got broken down a bit by half time.”
Still, Cornell gritted its way to the 16-14 victory in its last match before the Eastern Regional championship.
“It meant a lot to the guys to come out and win this game,” Eldredge said. “… It gave us a lot of confidence going into regionals.”
The women also scraped their way to victory this past weekend, coming out on top in an ucharacteristic defensive struggle. The HTM Polo clubs boasted the experience of six National championships combined between all its players, so the Red knew they would have to come out prepared to play.
“This game was a tale of two halves,” Eldredge said. “… In the first with [senior] Julie [Nicholson], [senior] Ariel [Katz] and [senior] Monica [Ganley], the girls were seamless in their work.”
The fluid-movement offense translated into a solid 9-4 lead at the half.
“It was the effort of all of the players working well together,” Eldredge said.
When the teams came out onto the pitch for the third chukker, though, there was a notable absence from the Red lineup.
“In the first half [senior] Julie Nicholson played and then pulled a bit of a rib muscle,” Eldredge said. “She wasn’t being bother by it in the match but I decided with her that we should rest it to be in good shape for regionals.”
With a lineup that had not had much experience together, the veteran HTM squad made a run. The Red’s offense staggered, clanking in one lone goal in the period as the battle turned defensive. When the horses were reigned in at the end of the chukker, Cornell owned a slim two-goal advantage, 10-8. The trend of stifling defense continued into the fourth chukker. This time, neither offense could advance the ball.
“The fourth chukker was one of the most defensive battles I’ve ever seen,” Eldredge said. “It really showed how well both teams were playing defensively and how well we adjusted to each other. It was kind of exciting because all of the incredible plays being made to stop goals.”
While the Red controlled possession most of the period, it could not break the damn that was the HTM defenders. Cornell’s only goal came when the game was already decided. Still hanging on to the 10-8 lead, Ganley was awarded a penalty shot with under 20 seconds remaining. The shot ricoched wide, but she cleaned up her own rebound with 11 seconds left.
“After the game the girls were saying, ‘it just seemed like there was an endless supply of them,’” Eldredge said. “You beat one and there was just another one. You beat that one, and there was another one. … This is a really big win going into regionals to beat such a quality team. It really gives the girls some confidence.”