The men’s and women’s polo teams travel to College Station, T.X. to take on Texas A&M this weekend. The Cornell women (11-5) and men (9-7) will play their last games of the regular season before hosting the USPA National Championships in two weeks.
When the teams met at Oxley in March, the men topped the Aggies, 22-16, while the women finished with an 18-11 victory. Though the Red dominated in both games, senior men’s captain Branden Van Loon said the Red anticipates a difficult rematch this weekend.
“After playing Texas A&M in our arena, it’s very evident that they’re a talented and skillful team,” Van Loon said. “Pretty much all the players that come are going to have to give their best game and utilize their strength on the field.”
Van Loon emphasized the off-field bond the men have formed as an advantage for the Red.
“The amount of communication and trust we’ve been building between team members has been a great advantage,” Van Loon said. “In addition, we’ve been focusing on really hitting the ball away and not handling it too much.”
Senior women’s captain Ali Hoffman cited endurance as the Red’s greatest strength.
“We’re able to outlast a lot of teams because we put a lot of outside work into building up our strength and endurance,” Hoffman said. “Going into this, having just played for the last three months almost without a break, we’re in really good shape. Plus we have a lot of confidence coming off our win at Regionals.”
Last weekend, the women beat Harvard and UConn to qualify for Nationals. After defeating Skidmore and losing to UConn, the men finished as runner-up and advanced via a wildcard spot. Even with nationals on the horizon, both squads are focusing on Texas A&M in training.
“Our whole mantra has been taking it one game at a time,” Hoffman said. “We’re not focused on a game that still seems a million years away.”
“The schedule for the Nationals tournament has us playing SMU first and if we best them, we go on forward to UVA,” Van Loon added. “Both of those teams are very open teams that play a fast running game, so their style of play is really similar to what we encountered against Texas A&M last time.”
Although both teams handily defeated the Aggies in March, Playing at Texas A&M’s ERG Polo Complex will pose a new challenge, according Van Loon.
“The arena is completely new to the entire Cornell program,” he said. “We’ve seen pictures of it, but we don’t know how they built their goals and how they built their corners … all those choices affect how the ball plays off the walls.”
Hoffman added that the horses could pose another challenge.
“We’ve never ridden the Texas A&M ponies before,” she said. “At this point in the season we’ve gotten kind of accustomed to riding other people’s horses, but we haven’t traveled in a while, so hopefully we won’t be too rusty.”
Both squads hold away records of 1-3, and have played only once on the road each since November. In addition to the challenges posed by unfamiliar horses and arenas, the women also hope to overcome a history of inconsistent play, Hoffman said.
“If we aren’t doing very well in the first chukker, we lose focus a little instead of staying in the game.” she said. “[Head coach] David [Eldredge ’81] has been trying to hammer focus into our play rather than thinking about ten other things at once … Hopefully we’ll be able to get into it quickly and get our heads about us.”
Original Author: Gina Cargas