Meet Virginia Polo: One of the most successful teams on Grounds

Why the Virginia men’s and women’s polo teams are poised to win the national titles that barely escaped them last season

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Then-freshman Ignacio Viana going towards goal in the 2018 Virginia Fall Invitational.

Courtesy Mike Ryan

There are few things Virginia fans love more than winning. While two Virginia teams — men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse — won national championship last year, another lesser-known team was also earning win after win — Virginia Polo.

Virginia Polo has won 20 National Championships — 11 by the men and 9 by the women — and the teams have reached the finals a total of 46 times. To put this in perspective, other Virginia varsity sports have won 27 NCAA team national championships combined.

There has never been a better time to hop on the Virginia polo bandwagon. Last season, the Cavaliers had two teams make their way to the National Intercollegiate Championships for polo.

The women’s team was full of talent, led by then-senior Sadie Bryant — team captain and a quiet, yet powerful, force to be reckoned with in the arena. Then-juniors Demitra Hajimihalis and Meghan Milligan filled the other two starting positions. Hajimihalis ran the Cavalier’s defense and Milligan played forward, the “number one” position in polo.

The women played aggressively all year and handily clinched the Southeast Region over Kentucky to secure their spot at Nationals. The women began the five-day tournament strong and made their way to the National Championship via an 19-17 semifinal win over Cornell.

The finals were a hard-fought game, as horses and players gave their all, but the women ultimately fell short in a 9-20 loss to a dominant Texas A&M team. The women ended the season with a winning record,  only ever falling short to the champion Aggies.

The men were a young and talented group led by three then-freshmen — two-time National Interscholastic Championship teammates Jack McLean and Brennan Wells, as well as up-and-coming polo professional Ignacio Viana from Uruguay. The men dominated the whole season, which lasts from early October to early April, crushing teams by an average of 16 goals and remaining undefeated leading up to Nationals.

The men commanded their semifinal game, defeating North Texas 23-6. The team was confident going into the finals against a team they had faced and defeated throughout the season — reigning National Intercollegiate Champion Texas A&M. They started incredibly strong — 6-1 in the first period — but some untimely mistakes, tricky calls and unlucky bounces led the men to their first defeat of the season season by a score of 19-21.

While the “Aggie Sweep” kept both the men and women from winning a title last season, Virginia Polo is determined to not let the event repeat itself. Heads hung low and accepting second-place trophies, both teams swore they would not accept the same outcome next year.

This year, the women lose Bryant, as well as former Cavaliers Connell Erb and Jessica Riemann. However, one of the most dominant female players in the country will fill that void as sophomore Maddie Grant, four-time Girls National Interscholastic champion, joins the team.

The men bring back their three now-sophomore starters — McLean, Wells and Viana — as well as senior Antonio Mendes de Almeidaand and freshman Parker Pearce, who was teammates with McLean and Wells on the high school championship team. 

Virginia Polo has never been better poised to assert itself as the most dominant program in the country. Stiff competition is expected on the women’s side from Kentucky and the perennially competitive Cornell women. Likewise, the men’s side will compete with the likes of North Texas and South Carolina Aiken, who will be seeking redemption after crushing losses last year. Competition will be tense and, of course, the Aggies should never be discounted, but Virginia is well-prepared to find success this season.

Virginia Polo — both the men’s and women’s teams — next plays at the Virginia Polo Fall Invitational. The competition, hosted by the Virginia Polo Club, will be held at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville from Oct. 23 to Oct. 27.

While polo may not be the most well-known sport, the Virginia teams are too good to ignore. For newcomers to the sport, this is the perfect time to start following Virginia polo.

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