April 4, 2008

M. Polo Goes For Gold Against No. 1 Aggies

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The men’s polo team, ranked No. 3 in the country, will take on the No. 1 seeded Aggies of Texas A&M in the title game of the national intercollegiate polo championship, held at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky.
Rather than duke it out in a battle for agricultural superiority, a facet of education both universities are known for, the two squads will duel in the polo arena at 7 p.m. tomorrow night.
The Red defeated No. 2 Virginia on Tuesday, 16-15, to advance to the title game, while the Aggies knocked off No. 4 Westmont College (Calif.) yesterday, 22-8. The Red has had two extra days to rest for the title game than the Aggies have had, but the maroon and white may have an edge on the carnelian and white in the momentum department.
“Based on the game we had, I don’t know if there’s an advantage to playing on Tuesday as opposed to Thursday,” said Cornell head coach David Eldredge ’81, addressing each team’s respective advantages.
“Playing first has given us enough time to heal from any bruises we sustained in the game, but their game didn’t tax them very much, so our recovery periods should match up with one another.”
[img_assist|nid=29500|title=A rink by any other name|desc=The men’s polo team will exchange the friendly confines of Oxley Equestrian Center (above, March 29) for Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington to play for the national title tomorrow night.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Junior Rich Weidel thinks the respective edges should even out for the most part, with a slight nod going to whoever proves victorious.
“We’re resting up and getting mentally focused,” he said. “We’re fresher and they’re a little banged up. We have the edge in rest and they have the edge in game flow, so the team that wins will be the team that takes advantage of their edge the most.”
Spending five days in the middle of horse country may be boring for most college guys, but for the three polo players of Cornell, keeping occupied has not been a problem.
“The guys have been pretty busy with schoolwork and taking care of the horses,” Eldredge said. “We haven’t had a ton of downtime where they’ve gotten bored at all.”
The team also got a chance to watch a few college polo games going on in the festival, including the one that featured A&M. Eldredge, for one, played close attention to the Aggies during their match.
“I wasn’t surprised at anything that I saw from Texas A&M,” he said. “They’re a very well-balanced team. The general feeling from our guys while watching the game was a good one. We were not in awe of this team, so we feel pretty good after watching their game.”
As one of the top teams in the nation, the Red has played the role of favorite for most of the season. Playing the part of underdog in the title game, though, does not seem to faze the Red representatives.
“We like the position we’re in at the moment,” Eldredge said. “I’ve been in the position of being the No. 1 team, and it’s an added pressure. It makes it more difficult to think you have to win. I think that being the underdog and the No. 3 seed, we are not expected to win. We’re supposed to lose anyway, so winning will be looked at as a bonus from the pressure perspective.”
In terms of playing style, the Aggies should present a tougher challenge to the Red than the Cavaliers did.
“They’re more controlled than UVA in terms of speed,” Eldredge said. “Their top player is very heady and smart. UVA is all-out and a pedal-to-the-medal type team. The Aggies’ leading player is a little more savvy, which makes them tougher. They still like to go fast, but they’re a little smarter with their play.”
“Texas A&M plays a consistent style of polo that mixes tough and fast,” said freshman Max Constant, agreeing with his coach. “They bump hard, they ride hard, and they play hard. We do the same thing as them, though, so we’re two pretty evenly-matched teams.”
Texas Tech was a common opponent for Cornell and Texas A&M this year. Both the Red and the Aggies beat the Red Raiders in close contests in the fall, but Texas A&M defeated Texas Tech in the spring by a larger margin.
“The boys are not satisfied with just having beaten UVA,” Eldredge said. “That was an excellent thing for the year, but there’s a huge opportunity here, and these opportunities don’t come along every day, so we’re going to try and take advantage of it.”
Not worrying about the previous games of the season and complicated match-up theories, the squad from East Hill has a very simple gameplan in place.
“We have to put pressure on them and be physical right from the start,” Eldredge said. “Westmont’s game plan was to sit back and see what Texas A & M had to bring, so we’re not going to do that; they kept getting buried further and further. Attacking is the best and only way to go about it.”
“Watching them, they’re a beatable team,” said junior Bobby Harvey. “They have one great player, so if we stop him, we stop their team. It’s going to be a very physical game, which is good for us, because Rich [Weidel] is dominant physically. If we play against [the Aggies] like we did against UVA and put the bodies on these guys, then we should be able to come out on top.”