The most accomplished polo teams from around the country will be playing this week and weekend at the Oxley Equestrian Center for the national polo tournament, which will include both of Cornell’s teams.
The men will play their first game Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. against Southern Methodist, while the women begin the tournament on Friday, playing California Polytechnic State at noon.
The last time the Red men faced SMU was on Jan. 27, losing 17-15, when sophomore starter Nik Feldman sat out the match due to an injury.
“One of the big things that was a factor in that game was that Nik Feldman didn’t play for us,” said head coach David Eldredge ’81. “Nik adds another dimension to our team that hurts us when he’s not in the lineup … We’re a totally different team than we were at that point.”
SMU has its own advantages against the Red, as well.
“They have one of the very best coaches in the country, so that’s their biggest advantage against us I think,” Feldman said.
If the men win against the Mustangs, Cornell will play No. 1-ranked Virginia on Friday at 2:00 p.m. Despite a heavy loss to UVA, 28-4, on Feb. 25, the team is confident in its ability, according to Feldman.
“UVA’s the top dog right now, but still I think we can win that game too,” he said. “They’re used to playing in a big field, so we can play a tighter game with them and be more aggressive.”
The men must win the first and second games to qualify for the championship game, which will be played on Sunday at noon.
The women play Cal Poly on Friday, a team unseen by the Red this season. Although not much is known about the team by Cornell, so this might be an advantage, according to senior Amanda Stern.
“It might [be] a little bit in our benefit because we don’t know the team and we don’t what to expect, and therefore we can’t ride to those expectations,” she said. “We have to push ourselves to not assume they’re going to be a certain way or ride to a certain ability. You don’t have any pre-existing assumptions or standards, so you just have to play hard the whole time.”
Eldredge felt positively about the team’s chances against the Cal Poly Mustangs.
“From what we know we think we have a good chance against this team, we know they have one solid player,” he said.
If the women defeat Cal Poly, the team will play its second and final game on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. against the winner of the UVA and Texas A&M game. The team expects the Cavaliers to make it to the championship, giving the Red an opportunity for redemption from the previous season loss in February.
“I personally am really excited because when we went down to UVA, the score didn’t reflect how well we played,” Stern said. “We rode their horses really well — very fast and open. Being that much more in shape and prepared from playing other games in the semester, we are that much more prepared.”
Eldredge said the high level officiating may also help the Red against the Cavaliers.
“They play a more loose style, and that sometimes gets them in trouble more with the officiating — they get more penalties,” he said. “We are more disciplined than them.”
From the women’s side, UVA will be transporting horses to the tournament, and for the men, UConn, UVA and Skidmore are also bringing their ponies. Although the squads will be playing on other team’s horses as well as Cornell’s, Eldredge does not foresee any issues with the new horses.
“When games are coming this close, the horsemanship aspect doesn’t give you a big advantage,” he said. “Everyone is good enough out there to compete well on whatever is put out there on the field.”
Both teams said they are excited for the high level of competition coming to Ithaca this weekend.
“It’s the best of the best playing this week. For anyone who enjoys sports, this will be a really great tournament to come see; it’s really fast with a lot of great talent,” Feldman said. “We’re really playing the best polo we’ve played all year and I don’t think we could be any better prepared at this point.”
Original Author: Andrea Sielicki