UVA takes both men’s and women’s collegiates.

The University of Virginia’s men’s and women’s polo teams made their school proud when they took home the National Intercollegiate Championship on April 11. Even better, they did it on their home turf.

The National Interscholastic Championship is part of the USPA’s Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) program. The amazing numbers give a picture of how much interest there is in this program. One hundred ten teams participated in the program during the 2008/2009 season. The teams compete in regular games throughout the season to qualify for tournament play. This season 89 teams, made up of approximately 368 students, competed in 95 games played during 16 regional and national I/I tournaments throughout the country. Approximately 380 horses took part in the tournaments.

The Intercollegiate portion of the I/I tournament culminated with the championship at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many of those involved remarked what a great tournament it was. UVA polo coach Lou Lopez and son LJ, a UVA graduate who now helps coach, did a great job preparing for and hosting the event. I/I program director Kim Syme says, “The Virginia Polo Center was a fantastic host. ... Games were well played through the week and the students showcased their ever-expanding talents. Teams worked hard in the barns and supported one another during the games.” All teams share in the responsibilities during the tournament including caring for the horses, tacking and hot walking them, lining the field, goal judging and timing and scorekeeping.

USPA Intercollegiate/Interscholastic Committee co-chairs Russ Sheldon and Bruce Wells were on hand to oversee the tournament and assisted in the awards presentations.

The championship is a culmination of a lot of hard work throughout the season for the students. In addition to juggling large amounts of schoolwork, the kids have to help take care of the school’s polo string, not to mention fitting in practice and tournament games at home and away.

The polo strings used during the National Intercollegiate Championship come from several schools. This year UVA, Texas A&M, University of Connecticut, Cornell, University of Kentucky and Garrison Forest strings were used. The strings are split during the matches so each team will play one chukker on the horses. This assures that neither team has a horse advantage over the other. Veterinarian Todd Burdick was on hand as the equine welfare representative to oversee the horses’ care and ensure they were not overworked.

USPA Chairman Tom Biddle and USPA Executive Director Peter Rizzo attended the championship and were impressed with the level of play. Rizzo says, “The USPA National Intercollegiate Championship finals epitomizes the best in polo in the United States. The level of sportsmanship of the young men and women participating in the event is unmatched and the level of competition is second to none. Many thanks to the coaches, parents, players, horses and the USPA Intercollegiate/Interscholastic Committee volunteers and staff for making this wonderful USPA program such a success.”

Aside from the action on the field, a banquet at the King Family Vineyard was great fun for everyone. Additionally, the kids enjoyed the camaraderie with the other teams throughout the event.

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