Each boasting a dominant win against Texas Tech in the two earlier games of the round-robin tournament, Babson College (Beto Aguilar, Austin Hamilton, Leo Borja, Alt. Frederick Borja, Alt. John Hamilton, Alt. Diego Ante) prepared to challenge Skidmore College (Justin Hall, Finnian O’Malia, Ben Bruce) for the second time this year, in a pseudo-final for the inaugural Division II Men’s National Intercollegiate Championship.
Battling nine other men’s teams from across the country for a spot at nationals, Babson College (Boston, Massachusetts) secured their place with a decisive 20-12 win in the Northeastern Regional Final over Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York), whose competitive spirit earned them the coveted wildcard. “Once we found out we were playing a rematch against Skidmore we made a decision as a team to change the lineup so we could use a strategy they wouldn’t expect,” Aguilar revealed. “During regionals we noticed that Skidmore’s best player was intercepting most of the long passes we sent to goal and converting them into goals so we had to come up with a new strategy to ensure another victory,” Hamilton added.
Babson College Leo Borja leads the pack down the arena.
Traveling to compete at Legends Polo Club in Kauffman, Texas, for the first time, the playing field was completely level for both teams who were mounted by Prestonwood Polo Club for the championship. “Legends Polo Club’s arena is much larger than what we are used to since we played Skidmore at Yale Polo Club, which has a shorter and more narrow arena,” Hamilton commented. Playing to their strengths, Babson College’s tailored approach and offensive firepower ultimately gave them the advantage on Sunday, March 27, their efforts resulting in another win against Skidmore and the title 13-8.
“It feels incredible for us to be a part of this historic moment—also with my alma mater UCONN winning in the women’s division. Whether its Division II or Division I, we all put in the work to be able to get here.” – Mark Tashjian, Babson College coach
From the first bowl-in Babson’s team captain Aguilar was quick to take the ball to the offensive end and received a favorable pony goal as Skidmore attempted to clear the ball. Aguilar and Borja were quick to capitalize on the momentum, scoring a goal each to gain an early lead after the first 3-1. “We are all very different players, for example Leo is a very technical player, he’s good with small touches on the ball,” Aguilar shared. “Austin is very physical and I can hit the ball far and hard so we all bring a lot of individual strengths to the team.”
Skidmore’s Ben Bruce keeps his eyes focused on the ball mid-air.
O’Malia opened up the second for Skidmore, moving quickly out of the lineup to goal just before the offensive firestorm of Aguilar and Borja erupted. Proving himself to be reliable from the penalty line, Justin Hall seized his second opportunity to convert for Skidmore just before Aguilar added two consecutive goals to the tally. Hamilton had the difficult task of defending Northeastern Regional All-Star Ben Bruce and was able to hold him off the scoreboard until the final moments of the chukker.
“Our strategy was to have me play man-to-man on Skidmore’s most talented player Ben Bruce for the entirety of the match, while Beto and Leo went up against the other two opponents,” Hamilton explained. “Beto and Leo have exceptional mallet skills, ball control and horsemanship. As a team we knew that I am not as efficient with the mallet, but we believed that if I could take their best player out of the play, then we would be victorious.” Eventually breaking away, Bruce charged end to end to keep the game within three at halftime 7-4.
“Over the course of the season we were victorious over Yale Polo Club, Harvard Polo Club, Virginia Tech, Skidmore College and Texas Tech. These clubs have been established for decades and in some cases over a century, so it means a lot to our team that such a young club, without a school-owned facility, was able to take home the national championship.” – Austin Hamilton
Babson came out firing immediately in the second half with the first two-pointer of the final off the mallet of Aguilar. Not to be outdone, Skidmore’s Ben Bruce was right on his heels, retaliating in the third with a spectacular two-point shot of his own to narrow the gap. As play continued to intensify, several penalty opportunities presented themselves on both sides, which neither team was able to capitalize on.
With only a two-goal difference headed into the final chukker, Babson was unwilling to risk the win they had worked so hard to earn in the final minutes. Sparked to action, the fourth chukker witnessed Babson’s Hamilton come alive offensively to add three goals and hold off Skidmore’s final push. O’Malia answered back with a single goal, but ultimately Babson’s strong offensive presence once again prevailed to win the inaugural title 13-8.
Babson College – Coach Mark Tashjian, Austin Hamilton, Leo Borja, Beto Aguilar.
Preparing his team as much as possible, Babson College coach Mark Tashjian also tapped into some strategy of his own. “I coached Skidmore’s captain Ben Bruce in high school so I knew exactly how he was going to play,” Tashjian said. “He’s a really good player so I needed to prepare our captain Beto Aguilar to utilize the team as well as Ben was going to utilize his teammates.”
“Winning the championship makes me feel like I did my part as captain in creating a good environment where my teammates could play at their best.” – Beto Aguilar
A relatively new team to intercollegiate polo, Babson College launched in 2019-2020 just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which cancelled their first season (2020-2021). Putting in the work in the meantime and returning for their first full year of Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) polo, Babson College’s impressive showing has established them as the intercollegiate club to watch.
“I think there is a lot of significance for us being such a young team and now winning our first national tournament in the same year as I/I’s 100-year anniversary,” said Aguilar. “It is just special all the way around.” Hailing from Guatemala city, Guatemala, Aguilar played competitive polo in high school before helping to establish Babson’s team as a founding member. “I can’t wait to celebrate and tell my family back home in Guatemala!” Aguilar exclaimed.
Skidmore’s Ben Bruce on the ball.
Joining the team a year and a half ago, senior Austin Hamilton echoed just how significant the win is for the Babson program. “Over the course of the season we were victorious over Yale Polo Club, Harvard Polo Club, Virginia Tech, Skidmore College and Texas Tech,” Hamilton said. “These clubs have been established for decades and in some cases over a century, so it means a lot to our team that such a young club, without a school-owned facility, was able to take home the national championship.”
2022 Division II Men’s National Intercollegiate Championship All-Stars: Ben Bruce (Skidmore), Jeremiah Valles (Texas Tech), Justin Hall (Skidmore), Leo Borja (Babson College).
Babson College’s Leonardo Borja, Texas Tech’s Jeremiah Valles and Skidmore’s Ben Bruce and Justin Hall were selected as the Men’s National All-Stars. Valles also was the recipient of the Sportsmanship Award. “This was the last year I am eligible to play so I left it all in the arena!” Valles said. “Being named an All-Star humbles you because it shows all you’ve worked for pays off.”
Playing arena polo for the first time as a freshman, Borja brings his knowledge of outdoor polo from his homeland of El Salvador. “This win means a lot to the team and we are excited to let people know that Babson College has a national championship winning polo team to encourage others to start playing alongside us,” Borja said.
“Sangria has been a staple of the Prestonwood I/I string for many years—this unassuming bay mare packs a punch! She dominates both grass and arena polo, however, her prowess in the arena makes her an outstanding mount.” – Morgan McBride on Best Playing Pony Sangria
Skidmore College’s Finnian O’Maila received the Horsemanship Award. “It’s my first season playing polo, so for me it’s pretty exceptional to represent Skidmore in the championship,” O’Malia commented. “The horses were fabulous and made us all look good.”
2022 Division II Men’s National Intercollegiate Championship Horsemanship Award recipient Finnian O’Maila. Presented by Interscholastic & Intercollegiate Committee Chair and USPA Governor-at-Large Liz Brayboy.
Mounting both teams for the final, Prestonwood Polo Club’s veteran horses were named Best Playing String and Best Playing Pony was presented to 15-year-old Thoroughbred Sangria. “Sangria was without a doubt my favorite horse I’ve played this entire tournament,” Aguilar said with confidence. “She turns on a dime and it was a pleasure to play her in the last chukker. Without her on our side the results might have been different.” Prestonwood Polo Club Manager Morgan McBride added, “Sangria has been a staple of the Prestonwood I/I string for many years—this unassuming bay mare packs a punch! She dominates both grass and arena polo, however, her prowess in the arena makes her an outstanding mount. Sangria is a favorite of amateurs and pros alike with an unbeatable ride-off and smooth handle.”
Austin Hamilton and Leo Borja celebrate Babson College’s hard-fought championship victory.
Although coming up short in the final, Skidmore College remained optimistic and proud of what they have achieved to make it to this point. “I’ve been playing polo for eight years and this is the first time I’ve made it to nationals!” Bruce exclaimed. “It’s an indescribable feeling to know that we are one of two teams at the top of the men’s Division II,” Bruce continued. Hall added, “This is my first season with Skidmore and it’s been wonderful just being able to see our progression from the ground up.”
Seeing all that Babson College has had to overcome throughout their short time as a club, senior Aguilar is proud to end his intercollegiate career on top with the tournament win of the season. “I have witnessed firsthand how much the club has grown since it was started and it would not have been possible without the people helping behind the scenes,” Aguilar said with gratitude. “We are much more organized and established as a club, so one can only hope that Babson Polo will continue to achieve great things in the years to come.”
All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.