For the second year in a row, the University’s Women’s
Polo team has won the national championship.
The team comprises six student-athletes and the thousand-pound horses they call their co-stars.
The team last month defeated Colorado State University 18-14 to win the 2006 National Women’s Intercollegiate Tournament held
at Cornell University.
The win capped a perfect 27-0 season and yielded the UConn club sport’s fifth national title in
The team, which was formed in 1976, previously won championships in 1996, 1997,
1998 and 2005. It also enjoyed an undefeated season in 1998.
“This kind of season is fairly rare, but sometimes a team is so good, no one can defeat it,” said James Dinger, an associate professor of
animal science and the team’s
volunteer coach for 20 years.
For the past three years, Matt Syme, a former UConn Men’s Polo captain, has served as volunteer coach for the men’s and women’s teams, devoting more than 20 hours a week to the sport he picked up while a student at the University.
The Women’s Polo team entered the national championship tournament as Northeast Regional Tournament champion and was one
of seven teams competing for the title.
The others were Yale and Cornell universities, the University of Virginia, Colorado State University, Oregon State University, and the University of California
UConn defeated Oregon State 34-3 in the first round to advance to the finals against
UConn’s team is one of about
25 in the nation, which is divided into four regions.
Love of the sport
While for many the mention of polo conjures up images of well-to-do players swinging their mallets on perfectly manicured country club lawns, Dinger describes college-level arena polo as more akin to “hockey on horseback.”
Unlike athletes who play more high-profile collegiate sports, UConn polo players are not drawn to the team by substantial scholarships or the possibility of playing for professional teams after their college careers end.
There are no professional polo teams.
They also have no tutors to accompany them on the road during their long season, which stretches from August to April.
Yet they must meet
the NCAA grade average requirements.
The women on the championship team play for love of the sport and actually pay $250 a semester for the privilege.
They often devote more than 20 hours a week to polo, caring for the horses and washing their tack after practice and after the men’s games before they go home.
|The Women’s Polo team with the 2006 National Intercollegiate Polo Championship trophy. From left, Kelly Wisner, Meaghan Scanlon, Amy Wisehart, Coach Matt Syme, Peter Rizzo of the U.S. Polo Association, Elizabeth Rockwell, and Lindsey Burbank.
|Photo supplied by James Dinger
Players on the men’s team care for the horses after the women’s games.
“It’s not a sport where you simply put down the ball at the end of the game,” Dinger said.
The professor and coach, who didn’t play polo until coming to UConn 29 years ago, said he attributes the team’s championship streak to the high school polo lessons and tournaments the club sponsors as both a recruitment tool and a means of keeping the horses fit.
He also cites the $1.7 million indoor polo arena built in 2001 on Horsebarn Hill, with a mix of University funds and private donations, calling it one of the most attractive collegiate polo facilities in the country.
“We use to play in the snow and ice and had to dig tunnels to drain the field when it rained,” he said.
“Now we can play year-round because of the indoor arena, and we’ve attracted a regular fan base.”
The games, which are played on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons during the season, are free.
One group of spectators, with no affiliation to the team, traveled to Cornell University to cheer the team to victory at the national tournament.
They told Dinger they plan to enroll their granddaughter in polo lessons at UConn.
Another fan, who took polo lessons at UConn, initiated efforts to raise $25,000 for an endowed scholarship for the club that have already attracted $15,000 in donations.
The roster for UConn’s 2006 championship team was:
Lindsey Burbank (freshman) Montague, Mass.
Lauren Davies (senior) Southbury, Conn.
Elizabeth Rockwell (sophomore) Owings Mills, Md.
Meaghan Scanlon (junior) Lebanon, Conn.
Amy Wisehart (senior) Salem, Conn.
Kelly Wisner (sophomore) Upperco, Md.