April 9, 2001


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This time instead of gazing to the rafters of Oxley Equestrian Center for answers, women’s polo head coach David Eldredge ’81 could spend half-time making sure the celebration champagne was being well-chilled.

By intermission during Saturday’s women’s national championship game, the lady riders held a commanding 14-5 advantage on the visiting Virginia Cavaliers.

A seven-goal outburst in the third chukker sealed the 24-11 victory for the Red, which captured its second straight national title and ninth in the program’s storied history.

Unlike many efforts throughout the season when Cornell has been troubled by first-half complacency, the defending national champions began this match in fine form.

The triumvirate of juniors Liz Antzcak and Melissa Riggs and sophomore Taylor McLean started for the Red. Less than a minute into the contest, Riggs fired a backhand nearside shot to open the scoring. After the Cavs’ Lissa Green evened the score less than a minute after, McLean gained control of the ball along the left endwall and sent a blistering backhand shot from 10 yards out over the white line to put Cornell ahead.

Erin Dougherty, the Cavalier’s stud, would even the score once more before the Red embarked on a scoring barrage.

After a No. 1 penalty gave the Red a 5-2 lead, Antzcak dazzled the crowd, taking control of the ball at midfield and racing straight in for her second marker.

The first chukker blitzkrieg concluded with the scoreboard reading Cornell 8, Virginia 2. Consistent execution in front of the goal enabled the offensive onslaught.

“We really picked it up and played our game,” McLean commented.

The second stanza saw much of the same. After Virginia closed to within five on a penalty shot, Riggs won the ensuing throw-in and sent a rocketing shot across three-quarters of the field to put two more points on the score sheet for the homeside.

That score prompted another string of Cornell goals, including a convincing effort from McLean who gathered a penalty shot that went short and wide and worked along the end walls to put the ball in.

For Riggs, the win took on added significance as she was the elder stateswoman on the squad this year. Last season senior Heather Torrey was paired with Riggs as the team’s co-captains.

“Coming into the game we were pretty fired up. We came out right from the start. We tend to be a second half team, but today we threw a little water on their fire,” Riggs noted.

The ability to distribute scoring opportunities also keyed the Red’s success.

“It wasn’t just one of us that showed up today. All three of these girls played outstanding,” Riggs lauded motioning to her teammates.

Dougherty was the only Cavalier to score more than two goals, finishing with seven — far less than what was expected of the standout.

With a comfortable lead in hand, Eldredge opted to lift Antzcak in favor of rookie Marissa Bianchi. The freshman has exceeded all expectations in her inaugural campaign and contributed a goal to the Red’s cause.

For the freshman, capturing the title in her first year adds to the already lofty expectations of playing for a program that is consistently perched at the No. 1 slot in the nation.

“This is pretty incredible but the expectations are there now. Playing with Taylor [McLean] and Liz {Antzcak] in high school made the transition to the college level easier,” the freshman said.

A scary moment occurred in the final minute of the third chukker. As Erin Dougherty struck on a two-point shot, Riggs’s pony met Virginia freshman Dana Grant’s mount at an awkward angle. The ponies’ legs became tangled and Grant was thrown to the ground, causing an abrupt silence to envelope the crowd of over 400. Grant escaped unscathed but was replaced by Fiona Seager in the final stanza.

Led by two goals from McLean in the final chukker, the Red cruised to the win. McLean displayed her fine hooking skills in a stellar defensive effort.

The home crowd lifted Cornell from the onset. With both the men’s and women’s tournament on East Hill for the first time ever, Oxley was filled with a mix of spirited newcomers to the sport and long-time supporters of the program. Polo aficionados caused parking areas to overflow onto the local streets. Inside, Cornell’s supporters were the loudest of the contingents and a few particularly vociferous fans even attempted to adapt Lynah-esque chant.

The contributions from the stands did not go unheralded by the riders.

“Being at home, having the home crowd was huge. To finally get it here, with an undefeated season going in and not win would have been [awful],” Riggs observed.

The junior seemed to diffuse the rivalry aspect of the match, but after watching the men lose and having seen her only loss in a title game (dating back to her freshman year at Garrison Forrest high school) come at the hands of Virginia in 1999, the victory over the Cavaliers was no doubt special.

At the conclusion of the match, Riggs and McLean, to no great surprise garnered All-American honors as the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the land respectively.

In the men’s bracket Virginia fell in a mightily contested but sloppily played match to perennial powerhouse Texas A & M. For the Cornell men, who fell for the second straight year in the semifinals, senior Jeff Embow was named an All-American.

Archived article by Gary Schueller