Two weeks ago, the women of the Cornell equestrian team were strong but disheartened. They had just competed at Zones and missed the qualifying place for Nationals later this May, despite what they deemed a solid showing. Their only qualm with their performance had been the tiny slip-ups they had made in several events, slip-ups that had prevented them from claiming top finishes in those events, and eventually, led them to finish third.
This weekend’s tournament told a different story. The Red hosted the Ivy League Championships and clinched the entire showing by finishing with a perfect score to claim the championship title.
“It was a really great way to end the year for the majority of the team,” said head coach Joanna Novakovic ’03. “It was also my birthday, so it was probably the best birthday gift they could give me.”
Cornell was definitely in a celebratory mood after their showing on Sunday, especially after having all of their high point riders win their events
“It was a lot of fun — a lot of good teamwork and good effort went into it, so it was kind of good to not make redemption,” said senior Claira Seely. “Our team is really powerful and we get along really well, so it was nice to kind of have that show through, and, you know, win Ivies.”
Seely may have sounded casual, but Cornell’s riders were anything but. This was the program’s eighth overall title, a nice tally to add under their belt as a team. In addition to the overall win, five riders won individual championships, including senior and co-captain Victoria Whitworth, who left as the High Point Rider with two individual titles in Open Fences and Open Flat.
The perfect example to showcase Cornell’s dominating performances was Open Fences, where Whitworth took first place, junior Molly O’Shea took second as the Reserve Champion and senior Carlee Roberts took third. Not only did they manage to secure titles for all events, they grabbed top finishes in those events as well.
“I think everyone just had great attitudes going into it,” said senior Nicole Zitzmann. “We were really excited, and I think it really showed because we had a perfect score … which is basically unheard of, so it was really great and everyone worked so hard. It was a really great culmination for everything.”
Zitzmann had one of the team’s championship rides, specifically in Novice Fences. Alongside her and Whitworth were sophomore Vaughan Shanley in Intermediate Fences, Seely in Intermediate Flat and sophomore Madeline Kinnear in Walk Trot.
Senior Lauren Jaquay earned second place and Reserve Champion in Intermediate Flat. For the Walk Trot Canter event, four of Cornell’s women competed, with freshman Callie Boozer claiming third, sophomore Laura Vasquez-Bolanos taking the fourth position, freshman Kate Wagner winning for fifth and freshman Stephanie Introne placing sixth after riding in their individual sections. Junior Megan He and freshman Mariam Khan took third place for Intermediate Fences and Walk Trot, respectively.
“[Sunday], we were pretty much untouchable,” Novakovic said. “We won every single class with our point riders, which is a pretty impressive thing to do, and the Dartmouth coach told me that that’s only happened a few times in the 20 years of the Ivy League Championships, so that felt pretty good.”
This tournament was the last ride for nearly a third of the team, including Zitzmann.
“Everyone was definitely on top of their game,” Zitzmann said. “There’s also … 11 of us [seniors] and it’s the end of the road for most of us also, so I think we really wanted to get that last great showing in before graduation. I think that everything just came together so well.”
Out of the 33 members of the team, 11 are seniors. With the exception of Amanda Ko, who will be riding as an individual for Nationals in May, this weekend’s championship was these seniors’ last competition as part of the Red.
“Everybody was in a really good mood, and it was just a nice way to finish out my IHSA career,” Seely said. “I think our team has a really good culture. My senior class is certainly very big and has a prominent presence in the overall team, but I think skill-wise and personality-wise and everything, [the team will] all still do really really well. Our team has a good foundation.”
With the season finally coming to a close, only Seely, Ko and Vasquez-Bolanos will be able to ride again this year at the IHSA National Championships. Regular team practice is over, and the focus is on these specific people to bring home yet another win for the Cornell program.
Coach Novakovic detailed a little bit about the riders’ training for the next few weeks in anticipation for Nationals.
“They can basically do as much riding and take as many lessons as they feel like they need to in this next week,” she said. “It’s really just putting the finishing touches on because they’re already great and they’re know how to win.”
Nationals will be held from May 4 to 7 in Lexington, Ky.