Apr 06, 2018 4:55 PM
Winning their respective quarterfinals, Southern Methodist University (SMU) and Texas A&M University (TAMU) joined two qualifying teams in Thursday’s USPA National Intercollegiate Championship Men’s Semifinals on April 5, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. Playing an exceptional second half, SMU defeated Cornell 14-9 to claim the first spot in the final. In the second game, TAMU fought hard against the University of Virginia (UVA) in the fourth chukker to hold onto their lead and the win 13-11. SMU will face Texas A&M this Saturday, April 7, at 5:00pm ET as SMU battles to hoist their first national championship trophy.
Outscoring Western Ontario by two in the quarterfinal (10-8), Southern Methodist University (SMU) moved on to face Cornell University in the first men’s semifinal of the USPA National Intercollegiate Championships (NIC). Finding their rhythm in the second half, SMU accelerated onto the scoreboard with every player contributing at least one to the final tally 14-9.
From the onset, game play was choppy as both teams struggled to keep the ball in play long enough to move down the arena. Utilizing the wall to their advantage, SMU picked up two consecutive goals in the first, which Cornell countered with an impressive backshot goal by Ryan Saul. SMU focused defensively on powerful Cornell forward Lorenzo Masias, which allowed Jake Klentner to maneuver through the arena, opening up opportunities for his teammates to score. “Lorenzo [Masias] is such a tough player that we thought it best to dedicate one man to him,” JT Shiverick said. “The first two chukkers Jake Klentner was on him and in the second half we had Michael Armour come in fresh because it’s a really tough job.” Benefitting near the end of the second chukker from a mistake by Cornell who scored on their own goal, SMU held a slight lead 6-4 headed into halftime.
Replacing Klentner in the second half, Michael Armour enthusiastically entered the arena ready to pursue Cornell defenders. Displaying an unstoppable intensity in the third, SMU erupted with a series of well-strategized goals from Shiverick and Armour. Aggressive and active in every play, Shiverick skillfully moved the ball down the arena using the walls for protection, escorting the ball to goal. Riding a wave of momentum, SMU quickly doubled up the scoreboard 12-6. Moving into the final chukker Cornell needed to act fast. As the pressure rose, penalties began to increase on both sides, inviting the opportunity for Masias to capitalize twice from the penalty line. Continuing their offensive onslaught Ramon de la Torre picked up his third goal of the game. Assisted by his team, Shiverick had time to add one final goal, ending the game 14-9 in favor of SMU.
SMU coach Tom Goodspeed reflected on the boost in momentum and team dynamics of the second half which shifted the course of the game. “The third was the chukker that helped to build the lead we had through the second half of the game,” Goodspeed said. “Michael came out and exploded in the third.”
Looking ahead to the final, Goodspeed emphasized the importance of SMU’s will to win. “I know my guys want to win, but TAMU is a formidable foe so it’s going to be whoever comes out on that day and wants it more.”
After an impressive win over Cal Poly in the quarterfinal, Texas A&M was warmed up and ready to compete for their position in the final. In a closely-contested game until the final horn, TAMU came out swinging and quickly executed several smart plays, earning them the win over UVA 13-11.
Disciplined in the first chukker, TAMU got off to a powerful start with four unanswered goals, three from the field and one converted from the penalty line, each member contributing to the scorebord. Focused on going to the man first and then taking possession of the ball, TAMU prevented UVA from making any successful shots on goal until the second. “We strategized to play simple, stay with the man and try to win the throw-ins,” Christian Aycinena said. Breaking the silence and retaliating with almost an identical chukker, UVA reevaluated their strategy and came out just as aggressively. A true team effort, each UVA player contributed a goal in succession, Kamran Pirasteh’s second goal leveling the scoreboard 4-all going into the half.
Witnessing how fast the game could shift, TAMU reorganized and returned to the game motivated to shut UVA’s comeback down. Trading goals back and forth, TAMU accumulated five penalties, two of which Ali Mobtaker was able to convert. Narrowly retaining the lead at the end of the third 7-6, TAMU brought every ounce of energy and skill into the final chukker. Action-packed from the first throw-in to the last, both teams went all out and repeatedly made powerful shots on goal with noticeable intensity. “I told them you have less than three minutes left to play polo and so go out there and play it like it’s the last game of your life, man-to-man first,” Texas A&M coach Mike McCleary said. “And that’s what I’ve been preaching to my team for over 40 years now. They are taking the man first, controlling their man and then they’ll control the ball.” Consistently one goal behind, UVA battled fiercely to catch up, but Mariano Silva’s pivotal two-point shot increased the Texas A&M lead. Running out of time, UVA delivered on two additional goals, but TAMU’s offensive drive was too significant to overcome. The game ended with TAMU on top 13-11 clinching their spot in the final against SMU.
Scoring seven out of 13 goals for TAMU, Aycinena shared his thoughts on what his team would have to do to beat SMU in the upcoming final. “We have to be organized as a team and keep our heads cool because it’s going to be a rough game. Most importantly we need to stick to the man and play our best game.”
SMU will rival Texas A&M this Saturday, April 7, at 5:00pm ET to decide the winner of the 2018 USPA National Intercollegiate Championship Men’s Final. The USPA Polo Network on uspolo.org will also livestream the women’s final between UVA and Texas A&M on Saturday, April 7, at 3:00pm ET.
All photos ©Jim Bremner.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More