By Sharon Robb
Successful Opening Day of Sunny Hale’s Legacy WCT Final at Grand Champions Polo Club: The highly-anticipated opening day of the Sunny Hale’s Legacy WCT Final lived up to expectations Wednesday at Grand Champions Polo Club. In front of a good crowd, opening day featured the open division round-robin competition between between San Saba (Dawn Jones, 6, Clarissa Echezarreta, 6, Alyson Poor, 4, Clara Cassino, 7); Chateau D’esclans (Riley Ganzi, 2, Mia Cambiaso, 5, Mia Novillo Astrada, 4T, Nina Vestey Clarkin, 10) and CrossFit El Cid (Paige Boone McCabe, 6, Cecelia Cochran, 5, Sarah Wiseman, 8, Tiffany Busch, 6).
In the opening two chukkers, Chateau D’esclans, playing for the first time as a team with no practice sessions, started strong with a 4-1 victory over San Saba with two goals from Clarkin, including one banked off the goal post; one goal by Novillo Astrada and one goal by Ganzi.
In the next two chukkers, San Saba regained its rhythm and offensive attack to tie CrossFit El Cid, 3-3. Cassino led San Saba with two goals and Jones had one. Busch had two goals and Wiseman added one for CrossFit El Cid.The open division continuous round-robin resumes on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The top two finishers advance into Sunday’s final at 12:30 p.m.
After a year’s hiatus, the WCT Final has attracted a Who’s Who of women players. Twenty-eight women are competing in three levels of play. Dawn Jones (Team San Saba) praised the efforts of Grand Champions owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi, USPA Florida Circuit Governor, and Dale Smicklas, WCT Commissioner and his wife Joanne Smicklas, WCT Ambassador for putting together the four-day event. “There is a great group of people here watching and there is a buzz around town about the women’s polo,” Jones said. “For a transition year this is pretty impressive. And thanks to Grand Champions and Melissa and Marc, Juan Bollini, Juan Olivera and Dale and Joanne Smicklas. They did a remarkable job putting this together and organizing this.”
The tournament is named in honor of legendary Hall of Famer Sunset “Sunny” Hale. The WCT is the only women’s polo event of its kind. The largest polo league in the world has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. The WCT Final, adult and junior qualifiers have U.S. and international players with more than 20 qualifiers in the U.S. alone.
Hale, the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Outback and part-time Wellington resident, died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.
10-goaler Nina Clarkin said she is honored to play in the WCT Final honoring Sunny Hale’s legacy. “Sunny was my idol and inspiration,” Clarkin said. “I remember one of the first ladies tournaments I played I was 16 or 17 and thinking, ‘wow, she’s a dream and I want to play and go like her.’ As we went around the circuit we became friends and I was constantly inspired by her, her talent, dedication and drive and also what a great person she was. I think that’s what I always want to try and improve in myself is to make sure I am a good sports person, on and off the field and an inspiration. It doesn’t always happen with the adrenaline out there. But she was the ultimate sports woman on and off the field.”
Women’s polo remains the largest growing sector in polo, aided by the WCT Series which has helped consolidate women’s polo and promote high quality competition throughout the world.