April 24, 2011

Tackling No. 27 and the Future of Cornell Athletics

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Over the past three years, Cornell athletics has been on the verge of a national championship in men’s lacrosse, men’s hockey, women’s hockey (twice) and wrestling (twice), where the Red fell just short of a title in dramatic fashion on each occasion. The men’s lacrosse team’s loss to Syracuse in the final seconds of the 2008-09 National Championship game has been nearly as well-chronicled in the national media as the men’s basketball team’s miraculous run to the Sweet 16. And let’s not forget the men’s hockey team’s loss at the hands of previously-unknown Bemidji State in the Midwest Regionals just a few months prior.

It took three overtimes for Minnesota Duluth to overcome the women’s hockey team last March in the championship game, and the same Cornell squad reached the Frozen Four once again in 2010-11 — a season in which the Red was ranked at least No. 2 in the nation at most points. In wrestling, Cornell nearly became the first Ivy team to ever win a national title, only to be denied by Penn State to finish in second place for the second consecutive season.

Something finally gave for Cornell athletics on Saturday when both of the University’s polo squads hosted the National Championship game at Oxley Equestrian Center. The win by the women’s team over national powerhouse Virginia and the valiant efforts of the men’s team against a dominating UVA squad, affirm that Cornell is a force to be reckoned with in the polo world. More importantly, the women brought the first national championship to East Hill since the gymnastics team tied for first at nationals during its 2009 campaign.

As such, I made it a point to attend this year’s title game at Oxley, planning my weekend around the event, as other members of The Sun’s editorial board can attest. In its freshman issue, The Sun added a new task to this year’s 161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do List — No. 27: pregame a polo match. Whether you choose to abide by the public intoxication part of the task is your call, but I will say that attending a polo game is a must for anyone who truly bleeds Carnellian Red — yeah, that’s right, I remember that from the tour. Logically the sports editor of any newspaper should have at least some knowledge of every sport that the publication covers; however, I’ll admit that I’m certainly more well-versed in some sports than others.

As a card carrying member of the Lynah Faithful, I often get a lot of flack for favoring the hockey team from some of my fellow editors, particularly those who pledge their allegiance to Newman Nation. What better way, I thought, to prove all the haters wrong than by taking my talents to Oxley? The home of the now 13-time national champion women’s polo team and equally impressive men’s squad is arguably one of the premier facilities in college polo — a key reason why Cornell was able to host the USPA tournament this year. Oxley, which has a capacity of 350 people, was packed to the brim on Saturday afternoon for the doubleheader action featuring the women’s and men’s squad in matchups against the Virginia Cavaliers.

While I’ll admit that I was fairly intimidated by the idea of walking into a sporting event as one of the less-knowledgeable fans — a rarity for those who know me best — I was surprised to see how welcoming of an atmosphere actually existed. Armed with more information than I could possibly handle thanks to the witty public address announcer, I was able to play it off as though I knew the ins and outs of the sport (as any sports editor should), dissecting each chukker like a true professional.

I recently watched a video on YouTube chronicling the journey of several seniors as they attempted to navigate the 161 List, and while I have no intention of tackling that albatross — though, I am willing to make an exception for No. 1 under the right circumstances — I will admit that achieving No. 27 was one of my best experiences at Cornell. If this story in Big Red Ambition doesn’t quite suit you, then at the very least I would hope that after three years of heartbreaking losses this Red victory can usher in a new era in Cornell athletics. But have no fear, Faithful, I’ll be back in Section B next year cheering right there with you.

Original Author: Evan Rich