Breakout star Babson College takes center stage with inaugural title

Each boasting a dominating win over Texas Tech in the previous two round robin games, Babson College (Beto Aguilar, Austin Hamilton, Leo Borja, Alt. Frederick Borja, Alt. John Hamilton, Alt. Diego Ante) is prepared to challenge Skidmore College (Justin Hall, Finnian O’Malia, Ben Bruce) for the second time this year, in a pseudo-final of the inaugural Division II Men’s National Intercollegiate Championship.

Defeating nine other men’s teams from across the country for a berth at the national championships, Babson College (Boston, Mass.) secured their spot with a decisive 20-12 win in the Northeast Regional Final over Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York), whose competitive spirit won them the coveted wildcard. “Once we found out we were playing a rematch against Skidmore, we made the decision as a team to change the roster 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 on goal and converting them into goals, so we had to come up with a new strategy to secure another win,” Hamilton added.

Traveling to compete at the Legends Polo Club in Kauffman, Texas for the first time, the playing field was completely even for the two teams put together by Prestonwood Polo Club for the championship. “The Legends Polo Club arena is much larger than what we’ve been used to since we played Skidmore at Yale Polo Club, which has a shorter, narrower arena,” Hamilton commented. Playing to their strengths, Babson College’s tailored approach and offensive firepower finally gave them the edge on Sunday, March 27, their efforts resulting in another win over Skidmore and the title 13-8.

“It’s amazing for us to be part of this historic moment, also with my alma mater UCONN winning the women’s division. Whether it’s Division II or Division I, we’ve all worked to to be able to get here.- Mark Tashjian, Babson College coach

From the first bowl-in, Babson’s team captain Aguilar was quick to carry the ball on offense 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 apiece to take an early lead after the first 3-1. “We are all very different players, for example Leo is a very technical player, he is good at the small touches on the ball,” Aguilar explained. “Austin is very physical and I can hit the ball long and hard, so we all bring a lot of individual strengths to the team.”

O’Malia opened the second for Skidmore, quickly slipping out of the lineup on goal just before the offensive storm from Aguilar and Borja erupted. Proving he was reliable from the penalty line, Justin Hall took his second chance to convert for Skidmore just before Aguilar added two straight goals to the tally. Hamilton had the difficult task of defending Northeast Regional All-Star Ben Bruce and was able to hold him off the scoreboard until the chukker’s dying moments.

“Our strategy was to have me play man-to-man against Skidmore’s most talented player, Ben Bruce, for the entire game, while Beto and Leo took on the other two opponents,” Hamilton explained. “Beto and Leo have exceptional mallet, ball control and riding skills. As a team, we knew I wasn’t as effective with the mallet, but we thought if I could pull off their best player of the game we would be victorious Eventually Bruce charged from start to finish to keep the game in the three at half time 7-4.

“During the season, we had victory 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 for more than a century, so it means a lot to our team that such a young club, without a school-owned facility, was able to win the national championship.–Austin Hamilton

Babson came out firing immediately in the second half with the first two-pointer of the final from Aguilar’s mallet. Not to be outdone, Skidmore’s Ben Bruce was hot on his heels, hitting back in the third with a spectacular two-point shot to close the gap. As the game continued to escalate, several penalty opportunities presented themselves on both sides, which neither team was able to exploit.

With just two goals clear before the final chukker, Babson was unwilling to risk the victory they had worked so hard for in the closing minutes. Pushed into action, the fourth chukker saw Babson’s Hamilton come alive offensively to add three goals and hold off Skidmore’s final push. O’Malia responded with a single goal, but ultimately Babson’s strong attacking presence again prevailed to win the inaugural title 13-8.

Preparing his team as much as possible, Babson College coach Mark Tashjian also tapped into his own strategy. “I coached Skidmore captain Ben Bruce in high school, so I knew exactly how he was going to play,” Tashjian said. “He’s a very good player, so I had to prepare our captain Beto Aguilar to use the team and Ben was going to use his teammates.”

“Winning the championship makes me feel like I’ve done my part as captain by creating a good environment where my teammates can perform at their best.” – Beto Aguilar

A relatively new team for intercollegiate polo, Babson College launched in 2019-20 just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which canceled their first season (2020-2021). Getting down to business in the meantime and returning for their first full year of intercollegiate/interscholastic (I/I) polo, Babson College’s impressive performance has established them as the intercollegiate club to watch.

“I think there’s a lot of significance for us to be such a young team and to now win our first national tournament in the same year as I/I’s 100th anniversary,” Aguilar said. “It’s just special all around.” A native of Guatemala City, Guatemala, Aguilar played competitive polo in high school before helping establish Babson’s team as a founding member. “I can’t wait to celebrate and tell my family in Guatemala!” Aguilar exclaimed.

Joining the team a year and a half ago, senior Austin Hamilton echoed the importance of the victory for the Babson programme. “Over the course of the season, we’ve won 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 more than a century, so it means a lot to our team that such a young club, without a school-owned establishment, was able to win the national championship.”

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 was also a recipient of the Sportsmanship Award. “It was the last year I could play, so I left everything in the arena!” says Valles. “Being named an All-Star makes you humble because it shows that everything you’ve worked for is paying off.”

Playing arena polo for the first time as a freshman, Borja brings his knowledge of outdoor polo from his native El Salvador. “This victory means a lot to the team and we are thrilled to let people know that Babson College has a national championship winning polo team to encourage others to start playing alongside us,” said Borja.

“Sangria has been a staple of the Prestonwood I/I chain for many years – this unassuming bay mare packs a punch! She dominates both turf polo and arena, however, her arena prowess makes a statement She’s an exceptional mount.–Morgan McBride on Sangria Pony Best Playing

Finnian O’Maila of Skidmore College received the Horsemanship Award. “It’s my first season playing polo, so for me it’s quite exceptional to represent Skidmore in the championship,” commented O’Malia. “The horses were fabulous and made us all look good.”

Riding both teams for the final, veteran horses from Prestonwood Polo Club were named Best Stringer and Best Pony Player was presented to 15-year-old Sangria Thoroughbred.

“Sangria was without a doubt my favorite horse that I played with this whole tournament,” Aguilar said confidently. “She turns a dime and it was a pleasure to play her in the latest chukker. Without her by our side, the results could have been different. Prestonwood Polo Club Manager Morgan McBride added: “Sangria has been a staple of the Prestonwood I/I chain for many years – this unassuming bay mare packs a punch! She dominates both turf polo and the arena, however, her prowess in the arena makes her an exceptional mount. The Sangria is a favorite of amateurs and pros alike with an unbeatable ride and smooth grip.

Although it fell short in the finals, Skidmore College remained optimistic and proud of what it has accomplished to get there. “I’ve been playing polo for eight years and this is the first time I’ve taken part in the national championships! Bruce exclaimed. “It’s an indescribable feeling to know that we’re one of the top two teams in the Men’s Division II,” continued Bruce. Hall added: “This is my first season with Skidmore and it’s wonderful to be able to see our progress from scratch.”

Seeing how much Babson College had to overcome in their short time as a club, Aguilar senior is proud to finish their intercollegiate career on top with the tournament victory of the season. “I have witnessed the growth of the club since its inception and it would not have been possible without the help of the people behind the scenes,” Aguilar said gratefully. “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.”

Photos by David Murrell