“She hates to lose, she’s always driven to improve herself, and she’s never satisfied,” says polo head coach Dave Eldredge ’81 of star player Taylor McLean. “She just has the fire in her belly,” Eldredge continues, “and the drive that will not let you lose.”
Needless to say, McLean and her passion for winning have led the Cornell women’s polo team for the last two years. McLean, a junior, has been in the starting role since the third week of her freshman year. “Once she got in there,” according to Eldredge, “I couldn’t get her out.”
McLean’s love for horses grew from deeply seeded roots, as her mother teaches horse riding, and owns one of the major horse farms in the area (in nearby Lansing). From there, it’s not hard to see how she began riding horses. Playing polo, however, was another matter. Many of her friends she knew through her horse-related activities got started with the sport, and, from there, it isn’t hard to see how she got involved.
McLean played polo for the very first time as a freshman in high school. However, the sport was far from foreign to McLean. “I’ve been riding my whole life,” McLean says, “So I don’t have to worry about riding [when playing], I can concentrate on the game. I’ve always been into riding, and this was just a more athletic way of doing that.”
As polo is not an NCAA sport, participating schools are allowed to have high school clubs dedicated to growing talent for the future. And though most players join this squad in 8th grade, McLean started a year later. According to Eldredge, “She leapt to the forefront in this program. I was just excited that she was going to come here, her parents were both alumni.”
McLean herself began to appreciate Eldredge’s coaching style during her high school career. “He let us learn just by letting us play. He made it all about having fun, and I feel like I really learned a lot from that. He’s a great coach, he really knows how to get the most out of each individual.”
From there, McLean knew where she was going to go to college. When asked if she knew she was going to come here after high school, she replied, “Yeah, pretty much. It has one of the top polo schools in the country. I mean, it’s a great school of course (laughs), but the polo program is fantastic.”
After starting as a freshman in her first collegiate semester, the team faced a dilemma during McLean’s sophomore year. The team’s star player, Melissa Riggs, was going abroad for the first semester. The team would need to step up to fill her place. According to Eldredge, “Taylor put the team on her back and carried us through the Field Tournament that year. She really stepped it up.”
McLean was more modest about the event. “It was really the team that stepped it up,” she said. “We had the same team together as in high school, it was no big deal.” However, last year, McLean and Riggs were named the No. 2 and No. 1 collegiate players in the nation, respectively. Eldredge commented on their play together: “Melissa can wow a crowd with skill, but Taylor can take care of all the grunt work to make Melissa look even better.”
The team has won nationals during McLean’s freshman and sophomore years, — quite an accomplishment for any individual. Looking to this year, McLean said, “I feel very confident we can [win the title] again.”
But does this confidence carry over to the personal goals she has for herself?
McLean responds, “Let’s just say that I’m a very competitive person.”
Archived article by Matt Nassr