April 14, 2009

Impressive Polo Seasons End in Loss at Nationals

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To be a winner, one must do the best he or she can. Although winners, the men’s and women’s polo team was unable to come away with the championship they have dreamed of since October. The duration of a polo campaign rivals the length of any college sport’s season. From October 4 through April 11, the Red ran the gamut of emotions over the course of the schedule. While the men’s squad experienced a roller coaster of rises and falls, the women’s team simply rode the wave of success until its meeting with Virginia in the title game. With all the marbles on the line, the Red came up only several trots short.
Proving that they were more than frontrunners, the Red battled back from an early deficit in the national semi-final. Down 5-2 to Kentucky after the first chukker, the Red demonstrated the grit it was forced to show so little of during its dominant 21-0 regular season. The red and white battled back to an 11-11 tie by the end of the third chukker. After swapping points in the final period, sophomore Lizzie Wisner scored the game’s final three points, including her first-ever two-pointer, to clinch a 16-13 victory for the Red. Senior Erin Bold tallied five points, as did Wisner. Seniors Ari Constant and Emily Bold contributed goals as well. Two pony goals were also credited to the Red.[img_assist|nid=36829|title=So close|desc=The women’s polo team finished the regular season a perfect 21-0 before falling to Virginia in the finals.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The finals saw the Red in a deep hole very early. Trailing 8-2 after the first chukker to the Virginia Cavaliers, a team the Red had beaten three times earlier in the season, the women compiled an incredible nine goals in the second chukker to take an 11-9 edge into halftime. The Red also held the two goal advantage going into its final period of play of the season. With 2:40 remaining in the game, Virginia took a lead they would not relinquish, however. Controversial calls down the stretch in the blue and orange’s favor helped ensure a 19-17 victory for the Cavs.
“We had our chances early with foul shots and near misses from the field,” said head coach David Eldredge ’81. “It just was not meant to be.”
The Red finished its season with a 22-1 mark and second place in the national tournament.
“It was a heartbreaking end to a phenomenal season,” said senior Ariana Constant, who will be graduating this spring along with Emily and Erin Bold. “There are no guarantees in polo, regardless of how many times you’ve beaten a team before. It is terribly unfortunate that this was the game we had to lose, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
Eldredge was certainly appreciative of the girls’ effort.
“Though they did not bring home the big trophy, they played with the passion and pride befitting our great school,” Eldredge said.
Wisner was awarded all-tournament honors, as was sophomore Max Constant on the men’s side.
Seniors Bobby Harvey and Rich Weidel teamed up with Constant in an attempt to upset the lower-seeded Texas A&M Aggies and Virginia Cavaliers. First, though, the Red had to take care of business against the Westmont Mounties. Significant favorites against the team from Santa Barbara, Calif., the Red was forced to swat its opponents away like an unrelenting fly. Constant and Co. were able to do so, and put away Westmont by a final of 22-15.
The semi-final round brought No. 3 Cornell together with the No. 2 Aggies. Finding itself down, 9-1, midway through the second chukker, the Red rampaged through the rest of the period to cut the lead to 9-7 at the halfway mark. The comeback was complete when the Red tied the team from College Station, Tex. at 11 in the third chukker. The score was knotted up at 12 going into the fourth and final period. With 3:10 to go in the game, the officials decided the horses needed a break due to the intense play. The Aggies used this to their advantage and came out firing when play resumed. Two quick goals by the maroon and white sunk the Red’s spirits and although playing to the final whistle, the Red was unable to overcome four additional goals by the Aggies. The final score was 20-14 in favor of the Texans.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better game against Texas A&M,” Constant said. “It is always a pleasure to play against those guys because I know that it is going to be a fast paced, hard hitting, tough game. No one gets hurt and there is no whining or complaining. It is just polo. It could have gone either way.”
Constant’s teammate agreed with him.
“We all did exactly what were supposed to do,” Harvey said. “Texas A&M just caught some breaks there at the end and found a way to get the ball in the goal in the last minute. Once you’re down by three or four goals with less than a minute to go, it’s hard to come back. It was a good way to go out. We were playing our best, and unfortunately, we came up a little short.”
Constant started to think about next season, and realized how tough it will be without Harvey.
“The season as a whole was very successful,” Constant said. “We finished with a great record. Even though we came up short of the championship game, we learned a lot this season and really grew close together as a team. It will be tough having Bobby [Harvey] leave next year. Luckily, we have a few kids coming in, but replacing Bobby [Harvey] will be hard. He’s a real character.”
While Harvey’s career with the Red is over, Weidel still has one year left of eligibility, which he will likely utilize next season.
“I have really seen Rich [Weidel] grow a lot over the past two years,” Constant said. “He has really found his role on the team and I look forward to building off of that. He has really done a tremendous job for this team and has bailed us out a number of times and scored crucial goals. I give him a lot of credit for that. For my career, hopefully the third time’s the charm (winning a championship next season).”
Harvey put his polo experiences as a member of the Red in perspective.
“I had a great career,” he said. “Polo is a huge part of my life here. I started for four years, got better every year, and was a captain for the last two. I enjoyed my time with Max [Constant] and Bobby [Harvey] both on and off the field. We made it to the finals last year and played well in the semi-final this year. We just let it slip through our fingers.”
When all was said and done, the 17-5 Red earned the admiration of its head coach.
“I’m extremely proud of the way the men played and how they never gave up when all looked lost early on,” Eldredge said. “To come back from that kind of deficit (9-1 in second chukker) is pretty unheard of and a great tribute to how the guys did. They did themselves and Cornell very proud.”