Last year, it was the University of Virginia. The year before, Texas A&M. In 2002, Colorado State University was the last hurdle remaining between the Cornell women’s polo team and the national championship. Cornell cleared that hurdle with a 17-12 victory Saturday afternoon to clinch its third straight national title.
With senior Melissa Riggs and junior Taylor McLean slowed by the aftereffects of illness and injury, Cornell outplayed the Rams despite being at less than 100 percent. Running on fumes for much of the game, Riggs led the scoring with seven, while garnering All-America honors for the second consecutive year. McLean scored four, and senior Liz Antczak and sophomore Marisa Bianchi each added three goals.
“They wanted it,” said head coach David Eldredge ’81. “I was quite happy with their play.”
The Red made a statement early, blanking Colorado State 7-0 in the first chukker.
“We just kept plugging,” explained Eldredge, “[Colorado State] made mistakes, and we jumped all over them.”
The second chukker was a bit of a let down, as Riggs and McLean began to tire. The Rams stormed right back, outscoring Cornell 7-3. The riders went to the half with a lead of only three.
Colorado State also enjoyed a bit of an advantage of riding a horse that was far superior to the rest of the ponies on the field. Knowing that it would have that same advantage in the fourth chukker, the Red buckled down and continued to play its characteristically fundamental game.
In the third chukker, Colorado State successfully slowed the pace and each side scored three goals.
With both of its star players fighting valiantly both against their opponent and their pain thresholds, the Red eked out a 4-2 advantage in the fourth to claim its tenth national title.
“Colorado State played us very tough,” commented Eldredge, whose teams have won a combined eight national championships during his 17-year tenure.
Saturday’s victory also marked the final game for seniors Riggs and Antczak. The last four years have been nothing but stellar for the pair.
Aside from three-peating as National Champions, Riggs and Antczak have been members of Cornell squads that won the Bill Field Invitational and the Eastern Regional Championship for the last four years. They were also members of the 1999 team, which fell to Virginia in the National Championship game.
The tandem of Riggs and McLean ranks among the great dynasties in collegiate polo, which includes the Cornell women’s teams of 1984-1988, which won five straight National Championships. Riggs’ illness of the past week and McLean’s back injury slowed the pair slightly during Nationals, but their contributions to the team’s success remained undiminished in this final season that the two played together.
Archived article by Owen Bochner