April 2, 2007

Polo Prepares for Nationals

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As Cornell students try to get through another round of monotonous lectures, unfulfilling problem sets and sub-par Ithaca weather this week, the members of the men’s and women’s Polo teams will be facing some special challenges of their own. The two teams ventured down to the Bluegrass State for the prestigious USPA National Intercollegiate Polo championships will be held over the course of the week. The men and women are set to compete in their first-round matches at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, in the brand new Kentucky Horse Park Arena in Lexington, Ky.

[img_assist|nid=22441|title=Watch it now.|desc=Senior Julie Nicholson (right) takes a swipe at the ball in an 18-8 loss to Toronto on March 3. The men and women begin Nationals today.|link=node|align=left|width=94|height=100]

While most of the other competing teams received automatic bids to the tournament after winning their Regional tournaments, the Red squads represent a small minority of teams that were fortunate to earn invitations as wildcard selections.

The sixth-seeded men’s squad will face off against the No. 3 seed, Westmont College of Santa Barbara, Calif. Westmont boasts one of the top players in the country, and Cornell is focusing on making some adjustments in order to stay competitive in the match.

“We have to play good solid defense on him and we have to make him pass the ball to his teammates,” said head coach David Eldredge ’81. “He’s going to make his plays like any great player … but it’s how much you can limit him, and that’s what we’re trying to do with them.”

The Red will be starting sophomore Rich Weidel at the No. 2 position, all-Regional selection sophomore Bobby Harvey at the second position and senior Stan Feldman at the third position.

Despite a few lineup changes throughout the season, the men, who won the National championship in 2005, remain confident in themselves and in what they can accomplish in spite of their lower seeding.

“[Westmont College are] a solid team,” Eldredge said. “They have one of the top players in the country, but there’s a drop off from there. We kind of balance out as a whole and we are a little more balanced as a team. [The Cornell men] are really looking forward to doing this and getting out there. They’re ready.”

The women’s squad enters the tournament as a No. 3 seed, and seniors Ariel Katz, Monica Ganley and Julie Nicholson round out the starting lineup. They will face sixth-seeded Eastern Oregon University in the first round, and the winner of that match will go on to play UConn, a first-round bye recipient. In this case however, the bye serves as a potential disadvantage for UConn, who will have less of an opportunity to get comfortable playing in the new ring.

“There’s always idiosyncrasies for every ring that you play in,” Eldredge said. “It will give us a great opportunity to get used to the ring. Hopefully, it will give us a little bit of an edge.”

Before worrying about UConn, however, Cornell must first get by the Northwest Regional champion, Eastern Oregon, who is making its first-ever National appearance. Cornell, in contrast, has qualified for 21 National tournaments in the past 22 years under Eldredge, and hopes to use that tradition of high-level playing experience to its advantage. Eldredge has a lot of confidence in the Red women going into the match.

“In playing our game, we should be able to beat [Eastern Oregon University]. [The Cornell women] are feeling really confident after last weekend. We like our positioning at the moment. They’re in a really good place. I told them, ‘This could be the last three games that you play as polo player. Embrace it. … You’ve been part of a great tradition.’”