Its a happy time of the year for the Cornell athletic department.
The men’s and women’s polo teams have begun their annual campaigns returning the most successful program in school history to play.
As the storied clubs begin yet another drive for national crowns, they will have something else to look forward to — a home crowd. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the NCAA tournament returns to the East Hill.
After coming up short in the semi-finals last year the men opened its season facing a tough Queechee club team, with several members showing playing time at Cornell on their resumes.
The lineup has not changed as junior Renato Pereira, rounds out a talented threesome including seniors Jeff Embow and Ben McClintic.
Despite a series of doubtful pre-season practices, the riders entered Saturday’s match a confident bunch.
Cornell entered the first chukker playing “better than expected,” according to head coach David Eldredge. Despite falling behind early, the team battled back to draw even after the first eight minutes of action.
By the intermission, the men had returned to their dominant form of a year ago, and cruised to a 22-13 victory.
With the commanding advantage, Eldredge had an opportunity to insert the highly touted Jeff Markel. The rookie garnered high school player of the year honors and should provide a solid building block for the future.
The effort was a balanced one for the club, who impressed Eldredge with its early chemistry.
“I was very happy with the men. None of the men were more dominant than the others. The team did a lot of good things,” an excited coach praised.
McClintic, who dazzled at times with his rapidly improving play last season, moved from the No. 3 position to the No. 1 slot to. The switch should make the squad an even more lethal opponent than it was last year.
After capturing its eight national championship last spring, the lady riders were poised to be an odds on favorite. With stand out junior Melissa Riggs studying abroad for the fall semester, the team needed someone to fill the void.
Look no further than Liz Antzcak. Eldredge simply cannot say enough about the former reserve junior.
Noting that she has “risen above,” he called her play “phenomenal.”
With the always reliable sophomore Taylor McLean anchoring the club at the No. 2 position and new addition Marisa Bainchi, making her rookie debut the team seems back on the road to yet another title.
Friday night the squad hosted a the Central New York club team, a perennially strong opponent. After a nervous start, which produced a rushed tempo, the riders found themselves on the short end of a 4-0 score. Yet a steady performance in the second chukker enabled the team to begin to ignite its offensive machine and trim the lead to three.
The ladies kept the intensity up and struck with under half a minute in the contest to tie the game, 12-12. The score would not change.
Given the uncertain circumstances and formidable opponent, Eldredge called the result “a major accomplishment.”
Bainchi also caught the eye of the head coach.
“[She] was on of the top recruits in the country and without question will be an exceptional player,” he lauded.
Unlike its male counterparts, who saw a contest with Connecticut canceled this weekend, the lady riders saw action against the Huskies yesterday.
Facing the 1995 national champions, the Red performed in fine form, showing signs of the dominance that characterized its 1999-2000 championship.
All told Cornell routed UConn 17-3, building on a fast start and confidence from Friday evening’s well-played match. The riders left the coach with little more to ask for.
“I can’t be happier,” affirmed Eldredge.
With a strong freshman corps including Molly Buck, a former schoolmate of McLean, all forecasts for future success on the East Hill are positive.
With the chemistry and combined veteran leadership and young talent, the club should make a “good run at the national championship for the next few years.”
Archived article by Gary Schueller