February 9, 2001

Polo Faces Rival Catamounts

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Some rivalries are so strong they outlast the distance of a continent.

Just ask women’s polo standout junior Melissa Riggs. Despite spending last semester off shore in Argentina, you can bet she’s had today’s date circled on her calendar. Virginia is invading East Hill this weekend and in the collegiate polo world this is a special rivalry. Riggs likes the Cavaliers about as much as Mike Piazza likes the site of a high and tight Roger Clemens fastball.

When she came to Cornell the Garrison Forrest product had never lost in a championship game. And for the better part of her rookie campaign it seemed it would stay that way. The lady riders finished the regular season with an unblemished record. But their championship aspirations would soon be dashed in Texas at the hands of a mighty Cavalier team. For Riggs it was an unusual feeling, almost a sense of shock — but one thing was for sure–she knew she didn’t like it.

Last year, when the two titans met again in the finals, the Red would prevail and gain its eighth national crown. But the memories of the loss are far from forgotten for the Maryland native and plenty remains to be settled between the two squads.

Cornell defeated Virginia by a 12-9 margin sans Riggs in the fall, and this match stands to be equally competitive.

Riggs is expected to be paired with the hard-hitting sophomore Taylor McLean, who is in the midst of a break out season, and a split between young gun Marisa Bianchi, who continues to impress in her rookie season and junior veteran Liz Antzcak, who was outstanding in the absence of her classmate.

In fact, with four starters and three spots, head Coach David Eldredge ’81 is “troubled” by an oversupply of talent.

Although the makeup of the team Riggs inherited upon her return to Ithaca is distinct from last year, she seems to have been able to clean upany rust that may have developed in her absence, and if her first game back was any indication, team chemistry is as good as ever.

“The girls seem to be adjusting quite well to Melissa coming back,” affirmed the coach.

Last weekend she led all scorers with a nine-goal effort in a 27-2 dismantling of lowly Purdue. The riders scored the games first eighteen goals by intermission to put the game out of reach.

But tonight the Red will not be able to run over Virginia.

The team welcomes the return of All-American Erin Dougherty, who was also abroad in the earlier match between the two squads. This evening’s engagement marks the first action the Cavaliers have seen since the fall, and Eldredge anticipates the visitors to be troubled by some rust.

Virginia plays a game of attrition, using its control and horsemanship skills to wear its opponents down.

Eldredge is well aware of what the Red will have to do to keep from falling into the Cavaliers trap.

“Execute,” he offered as the team’s mantra for tonight’s game.

And with Regionals looming just three weeks down the calendar, how the riders fare will be an early indication of their preparedness for the NCAA tournament.

“The key will be not taking them for granted and being overconfident,” Eldredge said, adding that he felt his players were not.

Things are not much more friendly on the men’s side. This season, Cornell has had the decisive edge in the advantage doubling Virginia 10-5 in Charlotsville behind an eight-goal outburst from senior phenom Jeff Embow. The Red followed the contest, besting the Cavaliers 18-15 in the championship game of the William S. Field Tournament in November.

“We’re expecting a good, tough game,” Eldredge said of Saturday’s duel with Virginia.

The men’s team, which continues to sport an unblemished mark in collegiate play, has benefited from an increased team cohesion.

Senior Ben McClintic has improved his confidence, and Eldredge praised his aggressive nature in practice this week.

The rivalry is no less intense on the men’s side as the Cavaliers two studs, Steve Orthwein and Willie Hartnet, turned down offers to play on East Hill.

With the teams playing polar opposite styles, the coach is aware of the importance of gaining control over the type of match this will be.

“Setting the tempo will definitely be important,” Eldredge said.

Virginia favors a more run and gun pace while Cornell employs a more methodical, slow style of controlling the ball.

The men will conclude the road portion of their season with an Ivy League tilt against Yale next Sunday at 1:00pm.

Archived article by Gary Schueller