The undefeated women’s polo team captured the national title on Saturday afternoon over Virginia, 18-10, while the men took second place in the tournament after falling to the Cavaliers in the title game, 28-14. After strong seasons for the women (21-0) and men (15-5), both teams capped off the year at Oxley, where Cornell hosted both championship games in front of a cheering home crowd.
The women’s win over UVA marks the 13th national title in program history.
“It feels awesome. It was an absolutely spectacular way to end the season,” said senior Lizzie Wisner.
Coming into the match, the women knew that they had the skills to succeed, and concentrated on staying focused and energized during the match to come out with the win, according to Wisner.
“We were trying to stay focused, but we all know that we all play better when we’re having fun. So we wanted to make sure that we had fun,” she said. “And especially for [senior Jess Cross] and I … we knew that it was our last shot — it was now or never — so we put everything that we had into it.”
Cornell captured the early lead, 4-0, in the first chukker, before the Cavaliers caught up and evened the score, 6-6, at the close of the first half.
“They were very physical,” Wisner said. “They were hitting us hard the entire game and they were always there. There was never a point where we were breaking away and having a free hit at the ball — they were always with us.”
Coming up against an experienced team like UVA, the team realized that it would have to battle for the victory from the start, Cross explained.
“Their No.1 Isabella can hit these beautiful long shots, they’re really good at breakaways, and they got all of their foul shots,” she said. “They’re a well put-together team, and that’s hard to work against. You really have to stay focused.”
After a back-and-forth battle in the first half, Cross recognized that the team needed to step up its play and challenge UVA in order to get ahead on the scoreboard.
“We had to pick up our energy because we were playing too soft and weren’t bumping them hard enough in the first half,” Cross said. “Those girls were outplaying us — physically and mentally. We play better at a faster paced game and we were letting them bring us down, so we had to play our game and not theirs. We did that toward the end when we started rolling and getting into our pace — we started playing our game, and we took over.”
The score remained deadlocked in the third, 8-8, and it was Wisner’s two-pointer that generated a decisive five-point scoring streak for the Red.
“Once we got that one goal that kind of sparked things,” Wisner said. “It helped us to jump-start our momentum for the entire game. In the first half, we didn’t play as much as a team as we usually do, and then in the third chukker we finally settled down enough so that we were really playing as a team.”
The scoring streak in the third gave the Red the buffer of a lead going into the final chukker.
The key to Cornell’s success was the strength of the women’s teamwork.
“We, as a team, consistently all played at a high level. We were reading each other’s passes well, we were thinking in coordination — it came down to teamwork,” Wisner said.
The match marked the final time that Wisner and Cross would be playing for the Red, as junior Ali Hoffman and freshman Kailey Eldredge will be the only returning starters in 2011-12. As graduating seniors, Wisner and Cross move on and leave behind high expectations for the rest of the Cornell team.
“We’ve worked so well together. All year long we’ve supported each other and we worked hard,” Cross said.
“My teammates were awesome. We worked really well together to ride through all of the challenges that we faced this year, so I couldn’t have asked for a better result,” Wisner added.
In the men’s loss, 28-14, the Cavaliers proved to be too much for the Red to handle.
“We knew what we were getting with that team,” said senior captain Max Constant after competing in his final match as a member of the Red. “They are a very talented and high-powered good, solid group of guys. We just wanted to go out there and have a good time and do our best and hopefully come out on top with a win — and we gave it our best shot, — but they’re a talented team.”
Alongside Constant, sophomores Connor Pardell and Branden Van Loon started and rode for the entire game for Cornell on Saturday.
“Everybody wants to make it to the national championship, and I still view the season as an incredibly successful one … We came in, we fought through the whole season, and gaining the No. 2 ranking [after] beating [Colorado State] in the semis was a huge feat,” Constant said.
Virginia dominated early in the first chukker and, after building a five-goal scoring streak, doubled the offensive output of Cornell by the end of the first, 8-4.
“We were trying our best to execute the game plan,” Constant said. “With that type of a team, because they’re so quick and because they virtually don’t miss, everything needs to be working out perfectly. We worked well together as a team, but we just came out short, unfortunately.”
The score stood in favor of the Cavaliers at the half, 14-6, and the visitors built on that lead into the third. Marking UVA’s highly talented players was a challenge for Cornell in the match.
“They work really well together as a team, and they’re all really interchangeable, and it presents issues in terms of matchups for us,” Constant noted. “While I was playing in the No. 3 position, which is traditionally more back, more defensive, I would have to go and adjust and take their No. 1 players — the most offensive [position]. It threw the dynamic off for us, because they were so versatile.”
The match was an opportunity for Constant — a graduating senior who has played an important role in the Red’s lineup for the past four years — to finish off his Cornell polo career at home.
“There’s no better way that I’d like to go out than playing against the No.1 team in the country, in the championships … with the home crowd. It’s the best way to go out, frankly,” Constant said. “As I move on, it gives an opportunity for the other guys to step up, especially with the new recruits coming in, and to set the expectations that they want to set.”
Though the men ultimately did take the loss, the squad did not waver in its efforts against the top-ranked Cavaliers, and fought until the final seconds.
“We just kept fighting, which is a testament to the type of team we are, but unfortunately we couldn’t put more points on the board than they did,” Constant said.
Original Author: Laura Dwulet