The men’s and women’s polo teams wrapped up their seasons this past week at the national tournament held in Brookshire, Texas. The No. 3-ranked men’s team put up a strong effort but lost, 19-12, in the semifinals against Colorado State, while the No. 1-ranked women finished as national runner-ups after a 10-9 shootout loss in the finals to defending national champions UVA.
The men’s team took to the arena on Thursday for the match-up with the Rams. The men had last faced Colorado State in the semifinals of the Bill Field Invitational, which ended in a close 24-23 defeat for the Red.
The regular starting trio of sophomore Nick Steig, junior captain Nik Feldman and senior captain Branden Van Loon opened the game for the Red. Steig had previously missed the Red’s last collegiate match-up, a late March game against UConn, due to illness.
Colorado State dominated the end of the first chukker with a four-goal spree to go up, 6-2. The Red narrowed the deficit to 6-5 midway through the second, but the Rams scored three straight goals to again close the chukker with a multi-goal lead, 9-5. The Rams extended their lead in the third before the Red managed to fight to 13-10 in the fourth, but the Rams again pulled out to a bigger lead and the Red finished the game behind, 19-12.
Despite the loss, Van Loon said he looks back on the Red’s season — in which the team finished with 11 wins and three losses — as a success.
“Honestly, I’m proud of what we have accomplished; making it to the national semi-finals is no small feat,” he said. “Do I wish that we had made it further? Of course, but that may not have been in the cards for us this year.”
The women’s team opened its tournament on Wednesday with a semi-final face-off against Washington State, a team the Red hadn’t seen this season. Although the Cougars captured the first goal of the contest, the Red quickly struck back and finished the first chukker leading, 7-2, before dominating the second chukker to take a 14-2 halftime lead. The Red would eventually claim the victory with a 24-7 score.
Following the win against Washington State, the Red advanced to Saturday’s finals to face UVA, the team the Red had lost to in last year’s finals by a score of 17-13.
The Red finished the opening chukker with a 5-1 lead, but UVA outscored the Red, 3-1, in the second to narrow the Red’s lead to two. Heading into the fourth chukker, the Red was clinging onto a 7-6 lead, but extended the advantage to 9-6 after a three-goal spree. With 30 seconds left, however, the Cavaliers tied it up at 9-9, sending the game into a shootout — the first shootout in a women’s final since the rules changed more than 20 years ago. After several misses by both teams, the last UVA player sunk her shot to give UVA the title over the Red.
“We’re incredibly proud of how we played this week, and I don’t think the final outcome is indicative of the level of play we presented during the final match,” senior captain Ali Hoffman said. “We started off a little bit slow in our match against Washington State, but I felt that we picked up our normal pace by the end of that match and finished strong in the finals.”
The loss marked the Red’s first collegiate defeat of the season. The women had previously claimed victories over UVA in the two other meetings between the teams this season, although one of those wins came after a three-round shootout.
“UVA is always a tough team to play, but it wasn’t anything that we hadn’t seen from them before,” Hoffman said. “Obviously, in the national finals, both of the teams come out strong and are at the top of their game, so it was physical and fast for most of the game. I thought it was pretty comparable to the other times we’ve played them this season though, and we’ve played them close every time we’ve gone out there this season.”
The Red’s preparation for the tournament was hindered by a lack of competitive matches in the second half of the season due to a horse virus that swept through Cornell’s barn. In an effort to let the horses rest and prevent the virus from spreading to other team’s barns, both the men’s and the women’s teams cancelled or postponed multiple matches.
“The quarantine really made our second semester problematic as far as playing outside teams at all, much less competitive ones,” Van Loon said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it just happened.”
Several Red players picked up individual awards at the tournament. Junior captain Kailey Eldredge, who was playing through illness during the tournament, was voted the second-best women’s player, while freshman teammate Anna Winslow was voted fourth-best player. On the men’s side, Feldman was voted and awarded the National Male
Original Author: Emily Berman