Following remarkable victories by large margins in the Women’s Arena Handicap Semifinals, Drumcliffe and UVA took to the arena at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, once again on October 22, to face off in a fast-paced competition for the title.
Drumcliffe’s 8-goaler Julia Smith* and dynamic duo sisters Maddie and Sophie Grant took on UVA’s trio of disciplined intercollegiate athletes Jessica Schmitt, Connell Erb and Katie Mitcham. Due to the two levels of play (Handicap and Open), and tournament format, most players on both teams had played several times prior to the final. “I haven’t played arena steadily since last spring,” said Smith. “Coming back from the grass and playing in the arena, I think playing consistently over the past few days has really helped. I also think that is something we need to work on as a country. We need more of these tournaments and more of these opportunities for women in particular to be consistently playing and playing at this high level, it’s the only way we are going to create high-rated players.”
From the moment of the first throw-in to the very last horn, the teams played open, classic polo. Smith was first to get her team on the scoreboard with a perfectly-timed nearside neckshot into goal. Schmitt quickly answered with an almost identical shot. Even play in the first with coast-to-coast runs and only one foul, ended with Drumcliffe ahead by one 3-2. The second chukker belonged to Drumcliffe as Sophie Grant and Smith combined for five consecutive goals. UVA put on the pressure and Mitcham capitalized on a field goal opportunity, but was quickly answered by the Grant sisters; Sophie displaying amazing ball control as she hammered in a long two-pointer from centerfield. Drumcliffe held an imposing lead by halftime, 11-3.
Coaches Lou Lopez for UVA and Maureen Brennan for Drumcliffe met the players in their tents during the halftime break to talk strategy. “I think coaches are influential to the game, it helps me so much,” said Maddie Grant “At home, Kelly [Wells] is always coaching me, even when I am just riding, and tells me what I need to hear. Today I was having a bit of a tough time in the beginning and Maureen [Brennan] turned my mind around. It’s really nice to have outside perspective by someone you trust.”
UVA came back after the half with Meghan Milligan once again substituting for Connell Erb. Determined to chip away at their deficit, UVA players relentlessly stuck with their man and kept Drumcliffe from making the breakaways and passes that they had executed in the first half. UVA’s defensive attempts paid off, as Drumcliffe’s Smith was only able to capitalize on one shot at goal. Despite their defensive attack, UVA was unable to convert any plays into goals on the scoreboard in the third. The final chukker played quick and open once again as Drumcliffe continued to make effective team plays. The crowd went wild as Sophie Grant made back-to-back goals including a two-point attempt that bounced back and was hit out of the air into goal. A final goal by Smith, her ninth of the day, sealed the win for Drumcliffe with a final score of 15-3.
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Julia Smith. Best Playing Pony honors went to dark bay mare Galeta played by Katie Mitcham in the third chukker. Galeta is owned by the Virginia Polo Center and was donated by Mark VanLith.
*Julia Smith 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.