By Jasper Fu
By JASPER FU
The 2018 Atlantic cup was hosted by Harvard Polo Club this past week and pitted the athletic prowess, dedication, and horsemanship of four teams – American and English – against each other. Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge gathered Thursday through Sunday to play in nine total matches at the historic Myopia polo club of Hamilton, MA. The final match of the 2018 Atlantic Cup saw Oxford and Harvard facing each other across the length of a 300-yard field. The crisp air and cloudy sky over Gibney Field blanketed the spectators as they set up tents, tables, towels and chairs. Hounds, horses, and humans alike loped across the grass in a dizzying bucolic parade.
The Atlantic Cup, since its first incarnation in 2002, when Yale’s Polo Club challenged their counterparts from Oxford and Cambridge, has been an intensely competitive event spanning two continents and four of the world’s most celebrated universities – Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford. The Harvard-Yale and Oxford-Cambridge rivalries, each spanning centuries, vie with national pride in a confusing mixture of conflicting loyalties.
A game of grass polo has each team fielding 4 players, playing in four “chukkers” (each a seven-and-a-half-minute period of play) in an open grass field ten times the size of a football field. Within each chukker, the clock only stops when a foul is called or there is dangerous play. A point is scored whenever a player hits the ball through a set of goalposts, one on each side of the field, and the goals are switched every time a goal is scored. Though the final day was held entirely on one of Myopia’s largest grass fields, a few of the games on the earlier days were held in a sand arena.
This year’s Atlantic Cup was the first in over a decade hosted in the United States, and the first ever to be hosted by Harvard. Men’s captain Sam Yonce (’20), originally from Hamilton, MA himself stated, “It was extremely special to have the tournament back on American soil and in my hometown. This year’s Atlantic Cup was an incredible opportunity to showcase collegiate polo, welcome new fans and players to the sport, and raise the profile of the Harvard program.” Yonce also recognized how much went into hosting the Atlantic Cup at Harvard, “From coordinating with international teams and sponsors, preparing the horses, setting up the venue, and arranging post-match activities, our coach, team, and the friends of Harvard Polo have worked tirelessly over the last couple of months to make this one of the best Atlantic Cups to date.”
The entire tournament was composed of four days – Thursday through Sunday – with players from Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale arriving Wednesday to begin testing Harvard horses and facilities. A round robin of games was held on Thursday and Friday followed by an alumni game on Saturday and the final games on Sunday. Thursday saw Harvard beat Cambridge and Oxford beat Yale – both in the walled arena. Then, on Friday, Oxford defeated Cambridge and Harvard trumped Yale.
On Sunday, two games were held to determine the final ranking of the tournament. First, Cambridge and Yale played for 3rd and 4th places, with Yale narrowly defeating Cambridge. Then, after the parade, where the hounds, horses, and Harvard band all put on breathtaking displays, Oxford and Harvard faced off.
As the dogs and band members cleared the field, the deciding match of the Cup began. In the first chukker, Oxford scored two quick goals, giving them a 2-0 lead going into the second chukker. Though several points had almost been both scored and defended by Harvard, Oxford’s Charlie Hitchman seemed never to miss in the first half of the game.
Close calls on both sides, as key shots missed or glanced off of polo mallets, made for a tense and hard-fought game even as Oxford held its lead. But in the second half, Harvard began to gain momentum. What had initially been assumed to be a blowout British victory soon began to look far less certain as Yonce and Harvard team member Carlos Roca de Togores showed strong leadership on the field. With under a minute left in the final chukker, and Harvard down 4-2, a foul was called. Players and coaches held their breath as they waited for the umpire to make his call. Depending on the referee’s decision on the level of foul, Harvard could either gain an automatic goal and then be given a throw-in, or they would be given a penalty shot, without enough time to score another goal. Unfortunately for Harvard, the umpire called a penalty 2, and Roca de Togores lined up to take the shot. Though Roca de Togores’ clean hit went straight through the goal posts, the last chukker expired with the final score 4-3, in Oxford’s favor. In response to Harvard’s loss, Yonce said, “Unfortunately, we found our rhythm too late in the game, and the clock ran out before we could push the game to overtime. Had we had one more minute, I am fully confident that the silver platter of the Atlantic Cup would be sitting in a Harvard Trophy case.”
Despite this, the team is proud of the game they played. Women’s captain Eliza Bird (’19) says, “The Harvard and Oxford teams both played well, and the score was close throughout, making for an exciting game for our spectators. While the Harvard team of course hoped to be able to claim the Atlantic Cup victory, we’re very happy for our good friends at Oxford who we’ve had the chance to play against many times over the past few years.” The Harvard Coach, Crocker Snow, Jr. (’61), clearly concurs, stating: “The fact that the team scrambled back from being down 4-0 deficit at halftime to step by step getting the score to 4-3 before we ran out of time to even things up… was a credit to our team and horses working better and better together and almost tying the game.”
As the inaugural meeting of these teams stateside, it seems a success worth celebrating! Joining in that celebration are not only the seasoned alumni and supporters, but also the new members of the team who joined through the open tryouts held in early September. Harvard polo boasts many things, but perhaps the diverse reach of its audience and associates is the most surprising. For if there is one thing I learned this weekend (besides the value of a well-placed backshot) is that polo, and the world it inhabits, is not so very alien, not so very far away. As the season continues, with intercollegiate matches held every weekend this fall, I foresee continued success for the Harvard team, driven by the Atlantic triumph and a tangible passion for polo.
Jasper Fu (’21) [email protected] looks forward to watching more polo this fall!