Underdogs to Top Dogs: Cal Poly Women’s Polo crowned national champions

The 2023 season was one to remember for the Cal Poly Women’s Polo Team, which took home its first national championship by dethroning the reigning champs, the University of Connecticut.

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Video by Nate Mills

The Division II national tournament took place from March 28 through April 1 at the Central Coast Polo Club.

“Being named a national champion is definitely a huge honor knowing how much work we put in to get here,” sophomore Sofie Rosenquist said. “Cal Poly has not won a national championship in all its years of being a club, so being the first is extra special.”

The path to the championship was a tough one, as the Mustangs were not even a guarantee for the final tournament, coming in as the last wildcard spot.

“We were all just really grateful to have been there,” junior Camilla McFall said. “Being underdogs we had nothing to lose and everything to gain and that drove us to put everything we had out there.”

The underdog fire burned even stronger when Cal Poly fell short at the West Coast Regional Tournament a month prior to nationals, which put the postseason in jeopardy. 

The team is made up of five total players, and the game takes place inside of an arena. Courtesy | Cal Poly Women’s Polo Credit:Courtesy | Cal Poly Women’s Polo

When the team was looking to lock in for the potential postseason, the mantra was clear for the Mustangs: stay cool, calm, collected and in control of your mental game.

“[Coach Megan Judge] always tells us that polo is more of a mental game than it is physical,” junior Anna Mendez said. “She is big on having us visualize what you want to accomplish… ‘Visualize winning nationals’ … and that’s what we all did.”

On this championship run, the team created a deeper bond than what is found in the arena or on the horse, they consider themselves “family”.

“It takes a lot to create something this legitimate, we’re family,” Rosenquist said. “We do things outside of polo together, teamwork and collaboration is something that we prioritize and learning while growing is our mantra throughout the season”.

That family almost watched their Cinderella journey fall short after falling behind UConn 6-2 at the end of the first half in the National Championship Game, but it was support and belief in each other that willed them back.

“Our support on the ground is what kept us going and got everything out of us, our coaches, men’s team and JV team,” McFall said. “When we felt at our lowest they gave us hope and we had gotten so far we knew we had to leave it all out there”.

Cal Poly eventually rallied behind each other and completed the comeback, snatching a 9-8 victory over its East Coast foes. 

“When the clock was counting down from five seconds left and we were up by one we knew they couldn’t come back so it was just a surreal and unbelievable feeling knowing we did it,” Mendez said.

Winning a national championship means something different to everybody, but for this team, they played for their teammates and Coach Judge.

“I wanted to win this championship not for myself, but for my teammates,” McFall said. “They put so much work, effort and time and I love them so much that I knew I had to put my everything to bring home this championship for them and the future of Cal Poly.”

The pressure of being a newcomer to the National stage, as the Mustangs were, along with the underdog odds is not normally a recipe for success, but it was for this team.

Cal Poly’s first national title was not the only first of the season, as this was also the first time that this group of five players was playing together.

With the championship win, Cal Poly now finds itself one of the best programs on the west coast. Courtesy | Cal Poly Women’s Polo

Thanks to the success of this season, these five players and the team as a whole will take the step up to Division-I next year.

“Our goal is to be competitive in D1, the teams are a whole different beast,” Mendez said. “We are the only D1 team on the west coast so next year will be our first venture out into the big leagues.”

It’s not often that Cal Poly and national champion are mentioned in the same sentence, but the Mustang Polo team found a way to sit atop the country at the end of the season and will all have their names etched into Cal Poly Polo history.

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