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June 14, 2005

Women’s Polo Team Wins National Title

The UConn women’s polo team became national champions for the fourth time, with a 17-15 win over Cornell in the 2005 National Women’s Intercollegiate Tournament at Burlson, Texas, on April 9.

The team previously won the championship in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

The University came into the tournament as a wild card this year and was one of six teams competing for the title. The UConn team is one of about 25 in the nation, which is divided up into four regions. During this season, UConn also faced teams from Virginia, Texas A&M, and Michigan State, winning 18 games and losing only three.

James Dinger, the team’s volunteer coach for the past 20 years, says the game “is like hockey on horseback.”

The arena setup is similar to that of a hockey rink. The players – three from each team – use a mallet to hit a ball about the size of a softball toward the opposing team’s goal, at the far end of the playing area. Hitting the ball through the goal is worth one point. If a goal is scored by the player behind the halfway point of the arena, it is worth two points. Most games end with 15 to 18 points scored between the two teams.

The game itself is divided into seven-and-a-half-minute quarters called “chukkas.” Since the quality of the horse is a critical part of the game, the teams use one another’s horses, switching between quarters. When one team travels to face off against another, the host school’s horses are used.

The UConn team draws from about 20 “polo ponies” for its games and practices.

“They’re athletes too,” said Dinger of the horses, some of whom are in their late teens or early 20’s and may even be older than the students who ride them.

As there is no professional outlet for polo players after college, players participate for love of the sport. Some come to UConn specifically to play polo. Team member Amy Wisehart of Salem, Conn., gave up a track and field scholarship to play. Meaghan Scanlon of Lebanon, Conn., played through the entire tournament with a broken hand.

The players spend as many as 20 hours a week on the club-level game, playing, practicing, and working with their horses.