For those of you who don’t know, polo is basically croquet on steroids and horses. Two teams, made up of three players each, face off on the field. These fields are smaller and indoors, leading to lots of swift maneuvering and quick plays. During the periods of the match, called chukkers, the teams struggle against one another to hit a ball into the opposing team’s goal, with the main focus of achieving as high of a score as possible.
“Polo’s a very fluid game,” said junior Dan Shaw. “There’s very few times when you’re ‘calling’ a specific play like you see in a sport like football. As such, seeing plays develop and knowing what your role in that play will be is a very important skill.”
These are the conditions that Cornell’s men’s and women’s polo teams are subject to, and so far, after the first half of their season, they’ve fared well within the given parameters.
Let’s begin with the women’s team: a story of struggle and development within the northeast intercollegiate polo region, ending up with a record of 4-5 by the beginning of December. They began their season with a starting lineup that had not yet acclimated to playing with each other in a setting as intense as varsity polo.
Junior Hannah Noyes explained the recent collaboration between the players.
“I think that we’ve really improved as a team this semester, because we started off and Emma [Eldredge], Shariah [Harris], and I had never played together officially as a trio in a polo game before our first match, and so together, we’ve definitely come a long way.”
The much-needed development of the women’s team was emphasized during their first matches of the season at the Virginia Fall Invitational. These games resulted in two consecutive losses to the University of Virginia, admittedly one of their major obstacles on the road to Nationals.
After the Red chalked up a few wins of their own, they lost hard to UConn, one of the major competitors within the northeast region for polo.
“We had a really tough game against them when we went to go play them a couple of months ago, and when they came to play us, they completely blew us out of the water, which we weren’t expecting because the first time we played them was a very close game,” Noyes said. “We’re kind of hoping we can take what we’ve learned throughout the first season and the performance that we had when we played in the Bill Fields tournament in order to play them in a more competitive game.”
It was during that invitational at Bill Fields that the women lost to their other strong opponent, Texas A&M.
Despite the loss to another contender at Nationals, the team’s overall focus is taking the season match by match, starting with UConn.
Freshman Shariah Harris said the Red’s strategy for the rest of the season would be “[focused on] UConn, because we have to get through them to get to Nationals, and then after that, UVA and Texas A&M.”
When comparing games from earlier this season to matches right before winter break, head coach David Eldredge was impressed with the strides the women had made towards becoming a force to compete with. The Red lost hard to several teams in the fall but played closer games when they played those teams again later in the semester.
“We’ve got the time to work in here and continue to build, and get stronger and I firmly believe that the girls are going to be doing that,” Eldredge said on the performance of the women’s team for their future games.
Harris described the confidence the women now feel as they go into the second half of their season.
“I feel like now we’re all able at the point to make plays and pass the ball to each other, where we’re all three dynamic and we can make the plays,” she said.
On the other hand, the men’s team tells a story of constantly dependable gameplay and successful matches. By the start of winter break, the men had achieved a record of 8-1, something that they are all proud of.
“I am very proud of the team as a whole and how much progress we have made so far,” said senior captain Ignacio Masias. “We have all improved individually and as a team. I am very excited for this semester and the games to come.”
The men had an extremely solid winning streak, comprised of six wins, until they reached the Bill Fields Invitational in November. It was then that they continued their winning streak with a seventh victory, but then snapped it with a loss against Roger Williams University.
Even with the loss, the team does not feel disheartened about the second half of their season.
“[I feel] pretty well, being that our only loss happened when one of our strongest players was out with an injury, and we were still able to perform relatively well,” said freshman Liam Palacios about the match against Roger Williams. “I think going into this next semester, if we are continuing to improve our game, we’ll really have a good chance at winning regionals and hopefully Nationals.”
Despite the idea that their future matches are against more formidable opponents than what they’ve faced before, the Red has a positive outlook.
“We definitely have some more challenging teams that we’ll be facing this semester than last semester,” Palacios said. “I think we’ll still do just as well.”
Shaw agreed with his teammates that the road ahead is much tougher.
“We have our sights set pretty high for the rest of the season and are looking to go to Nationals in April,” he said. “We have a really tough couple games at our regional tournament mid March, but we’ve seen all the teams that will be there.”
The team feels that it is primed to contend for the National Championship.
“Right now we’re number one in the country, and we have a couple of very good teams in our region we have to get to and compete for [the] National Championships,” Shaw said. “We feel that we can accomplish that, and it won’t be an easy road, but we’ve taken on some of them without our full team … we’re still a force to be reckoned with.”
Both teams are set to have their next match against the University of Maryland, with the men playing on Feb. 3 and the women on Feb. 4.
Read more articles in the Winter Sports Supplement here.