For a team with a history as illustrious as the one the Cornell men’s polo team has had, the beginning of each season presents a different situation than the one most teams would encounter. As Cornell prepares to kick off its season today against Skidmore at 6 p.m. in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., some may wonder whether the team would approach the season with a mindset of making changes, or sticking to the same game plan that has been working for the last few decades?
Because to be sure, whatever this team has been doing, it’s worked. The men’s polo team has finished in the top three nationally five times in the last eight years, boasting a 117-40 mark during those years, including a national title in the 2004-05 season. If there’s one thing Cornell’s polo team is known for, it’s consistently finishing near the top of the nation ever year.
“Changing too much isn’t always the best thing, especially given the amount of success that we have had in the past,” said senior captain Max Constant.
Cornell’s polo program has long been held in the highest regard in the nation. Since head coach David Eldredge ’81 took over in 1988, he has guided his teams to a combined 30 national championship appearances and from those, 11 national titles. Now entering his 23rd year at the helm of the Red, Eldredge and this year’s team look to continue the tradition of consistent excellence the polo program is known for. Even though players come and go, the team has maintained its success year after year, and this consistency is created by Cornell’s unique combination of top athletes and facilities.
As Constant said, “Academics are huge in attracting top potential that want a great education. Secondly, our facilities are considered to be the top in the country. Our barn, the quality of our horses and our equipment are all top of the line. Lastly, our coaching staff. We have an incredible coaching staff that has done remarkable things for the program and our team. The many years of combined experience allows them to maximize the potential of beginners all the way up to experienced polo players.”
And while consistency takes the team far, it is often not as far as it would like to go. While overall consistency has led Cornell to success every year, the team has been unable to capture the coveted national title on a regular basis, due, surprisingly, to a lack of consistency, though this time on an in-game level.
“We have had a great win percentage, but seem to come up just short in the national tournament. For our team, the greatest thing that we are going to work on is consistency,” Constant said.
Having lost a tough final last year to Texas Tech at the national championship revealed the improvements even a powerhouse team like Cornell would have to make in order to capture that national title.
“The national title is something that we always aspire to win. However, the loss from last year left a very bitter taste in our mouths, not because we felt like we played poorly, but because we had problems with consistent penalty shooting.”
In the final, Cornell converted none of the eight fouls called on Texas Tech during the first chukker, and only converted one during the second.
“Penalty shots are the easiest but also are some of the hardest shots to make in a game, similar to a free throw in basketball,” Constant said. “I think that the focus this year is going to be on consistency of fundamentals and minimizing errors. We are a very talented team, and we have a talented group of players coming up. If we can focus on consistency and fundamentals, I believe that we will be able to have a great deal of success.”
Original Author: Minnia Feng