Jason Ben Nathan/Sun File Photo

Women's Polo in a game against Garrison Forest Polo Club in the Oxley Equestrian Center in 2018.

April 11, 2021

Sustained Success: The Dominance of Women’s Polo at Cornell

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While Cornell hosts a number of nationally ranked teams, few rival the record of the women’s polo team in recent years. In the past 40 years, the team has collected 15 national titles — more than any other school — 18 second place finishes and 25 regional titles. 

Since 1973, the team has posted a record of 635-212-19. During that same time, the polo team boasted 20 All-Americans, an award recognizing the best riders in the country. Many of these riders won the honor in multiple years, and five became members of the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame. 

The history of the team began in earnest after 1973, 41 years after the U.S. Women’s Polo Association was first founded in 1932.  The Red did have a club team for a brief period from 1935-1937, but the program was abandoned when coach Chas Ferrin ’37, who was a member of the ROTC, was transferred to the army. 

While much of early polo play was limited to the west coast, by the 1970s, a number of universities across the country had created teams. The Red’s first team was under the leadership of coach Dan Scheraga.

With Scheraga at the helm, the team had two consecutive second place finishes at nationals before finally breaking through to the title in 1979 with a regular season record of 9-2. Scheraga went on to win back to back titles in 1984 and 1985 before leaving the team after the 1985 season.

The golden age of Cornell women’s polo began when Dave Eldredge ’81 took over as head coach, after a three year stint as captain of the men’s team. Eldredge began his tenure by winning the national championship in 1986, 1987 and 1988, growing the streak of consecutive national championships from two to five. 

Eldredge went on to win nine more national championships as head coach for the Red, including another streak of five consecutive titles from 2000-2004. Overall, Eldredge had a record of 344-104-15, which amounts to a .759 winning percentage.

Eldredge ranks at the top among all Cornell coaches with more than 900 games won over the span of his 33 year career. 

While Eldredge led the Red through an era of success, he was forced to retire in 2019 after misconduct allegations arose, including the use of a racial slur.

Since Eldredge’s departure, Branden Van Loon ’13 has taken over as the head coach of women’s polo. In his first and only season, Van Loon led the team to a 15-5 regular-season record, but they were unable to continue into the playoffs due to COVID-19. 

With both fall and winter sports being canceled within the Ivy League, the team is still waiting to get back out and compete. Despite only having two freshmen currently on the team, the team is ready for future seasons with a strong sophomore class of 13. 

Correction appended, April 12, 12:00 p.m.: The previous version of this article stated that former head coach Dave Eldredge ’81 simply departed from the team in 2019. He was actually forced to resign due to past misconduct.