On Sunday, April 15, Maryland Polo Club (Maryland) defeated Central Coast Polo Club 26-4 to claim the 2018 USPA Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship title at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. An impressive victory, the Maryland team consisting of the 2016 victors recaptured their title, garnering a second national championship for each player respectively.
Maryland, the 2017 runners up, headed into the tournament with a strong record as the number one seed. In the first semifinal of the tournament Maryland faced Central Regional winner Hillside Farm Polo Club (Hillside) from Richfield, Wisconsin in their first national appearance under Coach Margie Paur. Maryland player Catie Stueck began the game with a two-pointer, which set the tone for the rest of the game as Maryland rode away with a 28-5 win.
The second semifinal match pitted Western Regional Champion, Central Coast Polo Club coached by Megan Judge, against Northeastern Regional Champion, Cornell Polo Club (Cornell) with Coach Olivia Barton. Freida Witmer of Cornell began the game in a similar fashion to the first semifinal scoring an early two-pointer, but Central Coast Polo Club was quick to gain control of the game and advanced to the final with a score of 15-7.
Saturday, April 14, the teams were treated to a USPA Player Performance Clinic taught by Team USPA member and Intercollegiate/Interscholastic alumnus Connor Deal followed by a consolation between Hillside and Cornell with Hillside coming out on top.
Maryland’s Maddie Grant began the final match with a Penalty 2 conversion, which was followed up closely by a field goal from teammate Catie Stueck. Central Coast Polo Club put their first on the board with a penalty shot from Taylor Olcott. Maryland would score three more to end the first leading 5-1. Horses were provided by the Virginia Polo Center and Maryland Polo Club, and due to the split string format, Maryland rode their horses in the second and fourth chukkers. The three Grant sisters entered the arena in chukker two, each contributing a field goal, shutting out Central Coast Polo Club to end the half 12-1. Stueck came out hot in the third chukker with three unanswered goals. Cool and calm Petra Teixeira added a field goal to bring Central Coast Polo Club’s tally to two, but Maddie Grant answered with three to end the third 20-2 in favor of Maryland.
The fast play continued into the fourth and final chukker as Maddie Grant showcased her incredible skill, knocking shots out of the air and into the goal. An undeterred Central Coast Polo Club kept fighting as Cassidy Wood converted a Penalty 3, followed by a field goal from teammate Teixeira to finish out the chukker. Maddie Grant contributed 13 goals on the day to cement Maryland’s decisive win 26-4.
The 2018 win for Maryland is the fourth title in five years for the organization. Wells reflected on her team this season, “my girls were pretty fantastic today! They are one of the strongest girl’s teams I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach. They are pretty special and all contributed to the win. They rode the horses really well and worked together as a team. I’m extremely proud of them.”
This year, Coach Kelly Wells captured both the Open National Interscholastic Championship and Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship with two Maryland Polo Club teams. In 1998, Wells also coached the Garrison Forest School team to the Girls’ National title and went on to win the Open National, proving that her winning strategy has remained consistent (at the time, the winners of Girls’ Nationals where invited to play at the Open Regional).
Jane Bowles, niece of Mr. Dan and Julie Calhoun, presented the trophy. Tournament All-Stars were awarded to Maryland’s Maddie Grant and Sophie Grant, Hillside’s Emma Sbragia and Central Coast Polo Club’s Cassidy Wood. The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Hillside’s Sydney Weise. Best Playing String went to Maryland Polo Club and Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Sparkles, owned by Virginia Polo Inc.
All images ©Mike Ryan.