The Houston Polo Club experienced significant rainfall throughout the fall season, but player spirits were not dampened as the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™ began on schedule, Tuesday, November 6. Heavy rain expected in the forecast, Open games were rescheduled for two consecutive days in an effort to play both preliminary rounds. After back-to-back days of tireless competition, 2017 finalists Rocking P and tournament underdogs Midland Polo Club earned positions in Sunday’s final.
ROCKING P SEEK REDEMPTION AFTER 2017 OPEN FINAL DEFEAT
Rocking P met Midland Polo Club on opening day of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship eager to start off solid with their newest team member, Kenyan 6-goaler Tiva Gross. Due to the unfortunate weather, Midland Polo Club was only able to practice once as a team prior to the game and struggled to come together on the field. Three unanswered Rocking P goals in the first chukker set the tone for the remainder of the game, Midland Polo Club adding only one to the scoreboard off the mallet of Molly Smith. Rocking P players combined for an additional three goals to finish the day strong 6-1.
On Wednesday, November 7, Rocking P faced off against rivals San Saba, eager for redemption after suffering a disappointing overtime loss in last year’s final. A Penalty 3 conversion from San Saba’s Lia Salvo early in the first was the only goal to make it on the board before a misfortunate trip by her horse during play sidelined her from continuing. Only half a chukker played and 3:04 remaining in the first, San Saba decided to forfeit. Although unable to get another game under their belts, spirits were high on the Rocking P team as they looked forward to Sunday’s final. “I’ve definitely gotten stronger as a player over the past few years,” said Courtney Price, reflecting of her time competing in this tournament. “All the women, especially Hazel [Jackson], have definitely upped my mental and physical game play—because that is women’s polo, it’s very quick and very physical. We are just going to keep loose and hopefully play a practice before Sunday, watch game tapes and then go get it done!”
MIDLAND POLO CLUB PULLS OFF SECOND-HALF UPSET TO SECURE FINAL PLACEMENT
Armed with the formidable English 10-goaler Nina Clarkin, BTA challenged the women of San Saba in the first match of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. Firing hard on their opponents’ goal posts, BTA maintained the lead throughout four chukkers to claim the first win of the day 7-4.
BTA then met Midland Polo Club in second round competition on Wednesday, November 7. San Saba out of the running and Rocking P holding a 2-0 record, the winners of the day’s matchup would earn a spot against Rocking P in the final. 20-goal Midland Polo Club had their work cut out for them, having suffered a loss the day prior and now facing a 25-goal team. BTA’s Lucy Coddington put the first tally on the board. Coddington’s score would prove to be the only goal in the first half, as BTA led 1-0 after two chukkers. A double yellow called on a dangerous riding play at the top of the third sat Clarkin for two minutes providing Midland with a pivotal opportunity for two penalty conversions. Dayelle Fargey and Smith perfectly executed both penalties to gain the lead. The teams traded goals once more in the third to end the chukker 3-2, Midland Polo Club holding a narrow advantage. One chukker left and Sunday’s final on the line, BTA added another goal to equalize the score. Showcasing incredible heart, an offensive push by Midland Polo Club enabled Izzy Parsons to score back-to-back goals, sealing the win for her team 5-3. “We are quite a new team,” commented Parsons. “We had a slow practice on Saturday and then Tuesday we got to know how each other played. Today I think we worked together as a team much better, played to our strengths and supported each other.”
“When we played Tuesday we played very tentatively,” shared Midland Polo Club coach Corky Linfoot. “We played without commitment and a lot had to do with the fact that the players had not played together before, but you cannot play tournament polo, especially when you are not the most dominate team and not commit. So the change that has taken place between yesterday and today might be the most dynamic change I’ve ever seen in any of the coaching I’ve done. Their overall performance was brilliant, their trust and their mental commitment to fulfill the obligations that I asked them to do was impressive.
The highest level of women’s polo in the country, teams were rapidly formulating their final strategy following their qualifying matches. “We are going to have to have a chat with Corky because we definitely want a different outcome than the game we had with them [Rocking P] on Tuesday,” said Tiamo Hudspeth*. “We had a slow start but I think we are really gelling as a team now and I am confident in all of my teammates,” she continued. Following their second game performance, Rocking P was cognizant of Midland Polo Club’s change and renewed energy. “We’ve definitely got a tough time ahead of us,” stated Gross. “Midland played physical, they were very strong and quick in attack. I think our main strategy is to mark and play with confidence.”
The pinnacle of women’s polo in the nation, Hudspeth was overjoyed with her team’s performance. “You have no idea how happy I am to make it to the finals, I have played the Open five times, I think, and never made it to the finals. I’ve battled these women the last few years, Hazel [Jackson] and Lottie [Lamacraft], and I am so proud of our team and how we came together to make it this far.” Houston Polo Club will host the 2018 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship Final, Sunday, November 11, at 3:30pm ET. Local fans are encouraged to spectate and may purchase tickets at houstonpolo.club.com. For those unable to attend, the USPA Polo Network will livestream the final on uspolo.org.
*Tiamo Hudspeth is a member of Team USPA. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos ©Kaylee Wroe Photography.