It’s late on Saturday night and darkness has fallen over Ithaca. Driving past East Hill Plaza, emptiness and quietude surround. Then there’s just a flicker of light emerging the roadside–it’s coming from inside Oxley Equestrian Center. And if your intrepid enough to make the trip out to the arena and venture inside, you’ll find it anything but quiet. Senior Ali Tracey is screaming out direction to her teammates and the stands erupt with applause when she connects on a hard shot. The excitement is contagious in the arena. Long time announcer David Drogo, the heartbeat of the games, pipes out commentary to the fans.
But it takes a trip to the stables behind Oxley for to realize what the Cornell Polo program is truly all about. One is immediately struck by the bustle of the place. The club’s members were giving directions to one another, each splitting the duties of tending to the highly-touted 29-pony string. Head coach David Eldredge ’81 stopped to joke with one of the riders before parking the squad’s trailer for the night. Two players from the men’s team stood cleaning horse dressings. Responsibilities were clearly posted. Teammates were laughing with one another as they completed their chores. When Eldredge returned, he points out the riding cage–a sight that immediately strikes the visitor. A wooden horse inside a box of netting with mallets is used by the club to develop hitting skills and poise. It’s the type of fastidious attention to detail that has guided the club to eighteen national crowns. But its not the many championship banners that hover over the arena that are most important to the squad — it’s more about a sense of family.
Nonetheless, it is wins and losses that matter to most conventional measures of collegiate athletics, and in this department, the programs have done well. The women’s team captured its eighth national championship last year and its male counterparts came up just short in the semi-finals. Like most years on East Hill in recent memory, both teams are poised to make another title drive.
The men return All-American Jeff Embow. The senior transfer who led Colorado State to a crown before riding onto East Hill, will key the Red’s efforts as the club renews its quest for a national title. The Buffalo native has staked himself as the premier offensive threat on the Red, perhaps in all the land. As a high school student, he made a three-hour trek once a week to practice with Eldredge’s squad. In the young fall campaign, he has already made an impact, keying a 10-5 road decision over national powerhouse Virginia. Embow is surrounded by a talented cast. Senior Ben McClintic emerged as a starter last season and has solidified a spot in the starting rotation. His rapidly improving speed has been a blessing for Cornell. Drawing defenders, he often is integral to freeing Embow to take better shots.
“Last year, it felt more like a job. We’re having more fun this year. I think we have a very good shot,” Embow said.
After a shoulder injury sidelined junior Renato Periera last year, he returned to this year’s campaign in fine fashion. His rugged play and defensive tenacity do well in complementing Embow’s scoring abilities.
“With Renato back, Ben playing at his best, we’re all playing at our strongest positions,” Embow said.
With McClintic and Embow’s departure looming large, the club is blessed by its depth. Juniors Ryan Rapp, Mike Jacobellis, Ian Calder-Piedmonte and Kevin Tang round out a corps of highly talented reserves.
All is equally well in the women’s camp. Despite the absence of junior Melissa Riggs, who has been the heart and soul of the squad the last two years, the team has dominated all competition. Ithaca native Liz Antzcak has risen to the call, filling in effectively for Riggs. After tallying a pair of goals in the semifinals last year, the junior is off to a strong season. She has a solid vision while on the field and can both score goals and create offensive opportunities. Sophomore Taylor McLean, another homegrown product, has been absolutely dazzling. With a deeper sense of confidence, her hitting and accuracy have improved. Freshman Marissa Bianchi, among the nation’s most highly-sought after recruits, has made an immediate contribution as well.
After graduating four seniors, the team is in need of depth. Freshman Molly Buck is just one of many talents waiting in the wings for the Red should the need arise. Senior veteran Ali Tracey, the team’s alternate, has played admirably and has a strong vocal leadership presence. Perhaps Eldredge’s biggest challenge will be restructuring his starting line-up once Riggs returns in the spring.
Like the men, the women’s squad collected an important win over last year’s runner-up Virginia, taking a 12-9 decision on the road. The riders were able to prevail against the best competition they will likely face all year despite the absence of Riggs.
But then again, that’s almost expected from this squad.
Archived article by Gary Schueller