Armed with mallets and iron hooves, UConn polo team strives to knock down one title after another
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 01:04
While gaining credibility and respect, the UConn polo team has grown into one of the many great spectator sports the university has to offer thanks to its modern day portrayal of the historic game.
The UConn men’s team recently won 22-21 win over Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. to win the Northeast Regional title.
While the program has been around since 1969, the UConn polo team has organized a reputation of being one of the best teams in the country. In its history, the polo team has earned 10 national championships. The women’s polo team has won seven titles while the men have won three.
Polo is a game similar to hockey. It has a similar objective of putting a ball in a goal, as polo players ride horses in a field or arena of play. Polo is a fast-paced and captivating game. For collegiate polo, the game is played in an arena with three players for each team. However, outdoor polo is played in an open field with four players on each team.
UConn polo has been known for playing only the best teams in the nation. “We are competitive, we are lucky to have what we have,” Marc Tufts who is the polo team’s coach, said. “We have a good arena, excellent horses and it all hinges on donations.”
The UConn polo team has received donated horses from various people, including three horses from polo legend Tommy Biddle. The horses who play polo all have different personalities and different characteristics that the players have to adapt to. However, each player gets to ride the horse he or she feels the most comfortable with, except when it is time to switch during games to make the match as fair as possible.
Nate Berube an 8th-semester horticulture major and a member of the men’s team, likes the game of polo because of how fast it is and said that not everyone realizes it is a contact sport.
Berube used to play hockey as a child. He became interested in polo because he loved being around horses during his childhood. Despite suffering through repetitive injuries to his knee by playing hockey, polo’s known similarities to the ice sport caused him to start playing as a freshman in high school. His love for the game developed in interscholastic polo. When it was time to go to college, Berube said, “Polo is why I came to UConn.”
The numbers on each player’s jersey indicate the purpose that particular player has in the arena. Kaila Dowd, a senior animal science major and a member of the women’s team, said the No. 3 players have the job of making the plays while being the most defensive players; the No. 2 players act as midfielders and the number ones play the offensive. Dowd’s favorite position is the number one because there is more opportunity to score. Each player takes turns at each position during the game.
Dowd said that she likes everything about polo, especially the horses because they are your teammates. But you need to be careful playing it.
“Polo is a dangerous sport. If you are inexperienced you can put yourself and your horse in danger,” Dowd said.
With polo growing in popularity, Tufts, UConn’s Interim Polo Director and Professor in the Department of Animal Science, said, “Polo enhances the academic experience because students can play the game at the top level.”
Tufts has over 10 years of polo experience and has been the interim polo director at UConn for four years.
“Polo is a game not like any other equestrian event,” Tufts said. The fast pace and the ability needed to ride make Polo a sport that requires skill to be able to play. “It’s a young horse game”.
Tufts said it is very challenging for players to get the opportunity to play professional polo. To be able to play professionally, players need to work very hard and it is very rare you can make a living out of polo. However, some people can do it.
To be able to play professionally, polo players need to be rated on a scale of 1-10 by the United States Polo Association (U.S.P.A.) with 10 being the highest. According to Tufts, currently there are no Americans that are rated at a No. 10. However, Zach Grob, an 8th-semester political science and German double major and a member of the men’s team, is rated by the U.S.P.A at a two for arena polo and one for outdoor polo. After graduation Grob plans to dedicate the next three to four years with the U.S.P.A. program to try to become a professional polo player.
“I like the intensity and the level of commitment it takes. Doing it – polo – can turn into a life style. It’s a full-time commitment,” Grob said.