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  • Katie Turek

Women’s History Month: Celebrating Female Athletes at Cornell

Since 1987, March has been the month dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements around the world. From past legends to present-day champions, women have made a significant impact in many different areas of life, including athletics. For this Women’s History Month, the Big Red Sports Network seeks to highlight the teamwork and success of female athletes at Cornell. 

Among many incredible athletes, three women who have excelled in their respective sports this season include Lara Chong ‘26, Michaela DeFrancisco ‘26, and Katie Yee ‘27. 

Chong, a sophomore on the Women’s Polo team, has been a driving force behind the team’s success this season by leading the team in scoring. This season, Chong and her teammates have boasted an impressive seven game winning streak and won the Division II Northeast Regional tournament. As an Ithaca native, Chong grew up riding horses and first began playing polo, when she was 15, on Cornell’s former high school team. She was inspired by both her aunts, who are both Cornell student-athlete alums, and decided to stay in Ithaca to play on Cornell’s collegiate level varsity polo team.

Lara Chong

Image: Eldon Lindsay/Cornell Athletics

Chong said, “I love Cornell and I couldn't imagine being here and not having my team.” Both inside and outside the barn, Chong believes this close knit bond between her teammates has really helped with their communication during games and allowed them to achieve great success this season. 

Image Provided by Lara Chong

However, like many other Cornell student-athletes and students themselves, Chong struggles with being a perfectionist. Whether it's a bad practice or a bad grade, the sophomore polo star mentioned that she tends to be too hard on herself and can get  discouraged. “That’s where this whole being on a team aspect has been so great,” praised Lara. “I know I have to keep going, even if I don't want to for myself… I have to keep going for my team.” 

On the Women’s Gymnastics team, DeFrancisco made headlines when she earned her share of the vault title during the Ivy Classic where she scored a 9.825. This marked a breakthrough moment for DeFrancisco as she consistently scored a 9.5 or better on each vault during her freshman season and broke her former personal record of 9.725.

Michaela DeFrancisco

Image: Jeremy Entner/Cornell Athletics

Though Cornell was not always on her radar, DeFrancisco knew she made the right choice the moment she committed: “The second I committed here I got several texts from girls on the team who were all extremely nice. I already felt like I had a group of built in friends here and when I got here those connections just grew.” 

These connections have given DeFrancisco a support system and some of her best friends at Cornell. In fact, the sophomore from Albany, New York shares an extra special connection to Cornell: her mom, Karen Tedesco ‘95, is a former Cornell gymnast herself! DeFrancisco acknowledged her mom’s impact on her college decision process: “When I was little, I wanted to be just like my mom… but when I got to high school, I really wanted to make the best choice for me, and if that ended up being Cornell, great!”

The Women’s Gymnastics team spends a lot of time together both inside and outside of the gym. The team adopted a mother-daughter system for classes that helps keep everyone on top of their academics. DeFrancisco noted that this helps with their comradery inside the gym and allows the team to read each other much better. 

“Even if we don't say it...we can tell when somebody’s upset or needs help,” said DeFrancisco.

Image Provided by Michaela DeFrancisco

Having found tremendous success this season, DeFrancisco has a long list of pre-meet superstitions that help her get “into the zone.” Her biggest rule involves putting her phone away until she’s done with the competition. DeFrancisco explains, “It helps me zone in and really focus on the task at hand. I get in this mindset where it's like life does not exist before or after the meet.”

Yee is a freshman from Long Island, New York who competes for the Women’s Swim team. She specializes in the 200 fly and has broken the record not once, but already twice in her rookie season at Cornell.

Katie Yee

Image: Chip DeLorenzo/Cornell Athletics

Katie began swimming at a young age but didn't compete in the sport until she was around 13. After competing for a few years, Yee realized this was something she could do in college. 

Upon visiting Cornell during college tours, Yee could picture herself thriving and competing with this team. She especially liked the culture, saying, “I think something that really struck hard was the fact that this team has a culture like no other school did…There’s something really special that I couldn’t find anywhere else.” 

This love and support can be felt and heard at every meet that the Cornell Swimming and Diving team attends. Out of all of the screams, cheers, and whistles, Yee could always hear the roar of her team supporting each other.

Yee arrived at Cornell with big aspirations: she wanted to break the 200-yard butterfly record. 

Image: Chip DeLorenzo/Cornell Athletics

“I had very high expectations coming into this school. I knew that record was within my grasp,” Yee reminisced. “Achieving the record is one thing, but another thing I focused more on this year is just trying to have fun with the race itself.” Yee stated the race is not easy, so she’s grateful to be a part of a team that celebrates her for doing her best. This created a supporting and easy environment for her to pursue records without feeling immense pressure to do so.    

With the support of her team, Yee has truly found her place at Cornell. She credits her teammates for helping her become a better and braver person. Beyond the pool, they’ve even helped her focus on her academic goals as well. “There are people here who have helped me through situations I don’t think I could have done myself,” thanked Yee. “I’ve learned from so many people on this team…they’ve helped me unlock what I like and enjoy doing and they’ve helped me be a little braver in what I want to do.” 

Although only in their first couple of collegiate seasons, Chong, DeFrancisco, and Yee have already achieved astounding individual achievements that showcase just a small portion of the talent and teamwork in Cornell’s women’s athletic teams. Each of these female student-athletes have contributed immensely to their teams, and their efforts, along with those of their teammates and fellow student-athletes, are constantly making an impact on Cornell as a whole. 

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we as Cornellians need to continue to support our female athletes, inspire the youth, and provide an inclusive environment for everyone! You can cheer on these amazing women and their teams at these upcoming events: 

  • DII Women’s Polo National Intercollegiate Championship from April 2-6,

  • USA Gymnastics Collegiate Nationals on April 12, 13, and 14 at 10:00am EST. 


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