Nestled back in the woods a few miles from Grounds sits the Virginia Polo Center, the home of a program more decorated than Virginia men’s basketball or women’s swimming: UVA polo.
“When we tell people that there’s a polo team at UVA, they don’t really believe it at first or they’ll ask water polo,” UVA senior Brennan Wells said.
“A question that we get a lot is water polo? No, polo with horses,” senior Maddie Grant said. “But everyone’s excited to come out and see it. A lot of the community doesn’t really know about polo, what it is.”
Over the last 35 years, the Cavaliers have won a combined 20 USPA National Championships led by head coach and general manager Lou Lopez. This year Virginia is hosting the USPA Intercollegiate National Championships for the fourth time with both the men’s and women’s teams qualified for the championship games on April 9.
“It’s hard to put into words, it becomes very emotional for me as a coach working with these young players and it’s not only the players, but it’s their parents that are involved,” Lopez said. “This one is a little bittersweet because of COVID.”
A few years back, UVA was poised to make another national championship run at the Virginia Polo Center, but COVID shut down the season. Now after two years of practicing with no competition, Virginia has a chance to sweep the men’s and women’s national championships for the first time since 2012 back in their home arena.
“It’s definitely been difficult, I think we felt really ready my second year, had all the horses ready to go, we had more horses than we’ve ever had at this facility at that point,” senior Grace Burgert said. “Definitely been a challenge to wait this long, a lot of anticipation.”
“It means a lot, I know the boys on my team have really wanted to compete in this tournament for a long time,” Wells said. “Such a big bummer that we had COVID two years ago and really we’ve had a two-year drought where we haven’t gotten to compete and we’re really fortunate here to have an amazing program, an amazing team and we definitely want to utilize that and compete and we want to win as many national championships as we can.”
As anonymous as the polo program can be, hosting this year’s USPA championship gives the Cavaliers a chance to showcase their dynasty to the Charlottesville community and their fellow students.
“I think we’re really fortunate to have a lot of support from alumni and this program is incredible,” Burgert said. “We’re super lucky to be here and I think we all recognize that. We have the best horses in the country, so we’re super fortunate.”
The Virginia women will compete for their first national championship since 2017 on Saturday at 10 a.m., while the men will follow at noon looking for their first title since 2012.
“It’s the best in the country, best facilities, horses, recruiting kids to come here,” Grant said. “Lou does a great job with us, maintaining this facility, there’s a lot of work, there’s a lot going on. We’re really happy and proud to be supporting UVA and repping UVA.”