The 2023 season was one to remember for the Cal Poly women’s polo team, which took home its first national championship by dethroning reigning champions, the University of Connecticut.
The Division II national tournament was held from March 28 to April 1 at the Central Coast Polo Club.
“To be named a national champion is definitely a great honor knowing how much work we put in to get here,” said sophomore Sofie Rosenquist. “Cal Poly hasn’t won a national championship in all its years of being a club, so to be the first is very special.”
The road to the championship was difficult, as the Mustangs were not even a guarantee for the final tournament, coming in as the last wild card seed.
“We were all really grateful to have been there,” junior Camilla McFall said. “Being the underdog, we had nothing to lose and everything to gain and that led us to put everything we had in there.”
The underdog fire burned even hotter when Cal Poly came up short in the West Coast Regional Tournament a month before the nationals, putting the postseason in jeopardy.
When the team was looking to clinch potential postseason play, the mantra was clear to the Mustangs: stay cool, calm, collected and in control of your mental game.
“[Coach Megan Judge] always tells us that polo is more a mental game than a physical one”, said junior Anna Mendez. “She loves us to visualize what you want to achieve…’Visualize National Winners’…and that’s what we all did.”
In this championship race, the team created a bond deeper than that found in the arena or on the horse, they consider themselves “family.”
“It takes a lot to create something so legit, we are a family,” Rosenquist said. “We do things together outside of polo, teamwork and collaboration is something we prioritize and learning as we grow is our mantra throughout the season.”
That family almost saw their Cinderella journey come up short after falling behind UConn 6-2 late in the first half in the National Championship Game, but it was the support and trust in each other that kept them coming back.
“Our support on the field is what kept us going and got everything out of us, our coaches, the men’s team and the JV team,” McFall said. “When we felt at our lowest point they gave us hope and we had come so far that we knew we had to leave it all there.”
Cal Poly eventually rallied one behind the other and completed the comeback, posting a 9-8 victory over their East Coast foes.
“When the clock was counting down with five seconds to go and we were up by one, we knew they couldn’t come back, so it was a surreal and incredible feeling to know that we did it,” Mendez said.
Winning a national championship means something different to everyone, 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 in so much work, effort and time and I love them so much that I knew I had to put in my all 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, coupled with the odds of being the underdog, isn’t normally a recipe for success, but it was for this team.
Cal Poly’s first national title wasn’t the only first of the season, as it was also the first time this group of five players had played together.
Thanks to the success of this season, these five players and the team as a whole will make the move to Division-I next year.
“Our goal is to be competitive in D1, the teams are a completely different beast,” Mendez said. “We are the only D1 team on the West Coast, so next year will be our first foray into the big leagues.”
It’s not often that Cal Poly and the national champion are mentioned in the same sentence, but the Mustang Polo team found a way to sit on top of the country at the end of the season and they will all have their names engraved in Cal Poly history. Pole.