Five American players supported by the Polo Training Foundation (PTF) traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, November 16-26 for a series of four matches against three high school teams, culminating in an international test match against a New Zealand national team.
Zak Coleman, Grace Grotnik, Conner Jenkins, Johnny Kirton and Taylor Palacios were selected from a pool of 21 applicants who had participated in at least one PTF program in the previous two years. Selections were based upon ambassadorial skills, ability to ride unfamiliar horses and overall polo skills. This group of players stood out in the first two categories, and their instant chemistry resulted in great teamwork, remaining undefeated in four games.
Leaving the United States, Friday, November 16, and flying all night, four of the team members arrived in Christchurch, November 18 (losing a day crossing the international dateline). The team immediately went to watch polo where they met up with fifth teammate Connor Jenkins, who is currently living in New Zealand and working in polo for the Woods family. Connor was able to play for the USA in this event due to the fact that he has yet to begin high school at Christ College where he will start in January.
Monday, November 19, the team traveled to Hanmer Springs a resort town in New Zealand’s South Island known for its mineral thermal pools. The outside temperature was cool, but the swimmers quickly warmed up in the naturally hot water. Monday night, back in Christchurch, the team attended a meet and greet at a museum where they were introduced to hosts and opponents for the week.
On Tuesday, November 20, the team traveled to Emma Dormer’s farm to try some of the horses they would play in both an early game and the final test match. Charlie Woods, son of Roddy Woods (manager of the Guards Polo Club in England for twenty years), gave the players a captivating chalk talk on basic strategy.
The team played their first game against Christ College on Wednesday, November 21. Representing Christ College were Rohan Tennekoon, a former competitor having traveled to the USA with a team last September, Henry Batchelor, Ed Davidson and George Hutchinson. The game started out close, but USA’s teamwork was phenomenal on New Zealand’s great horses, and the Americans were able to edge out a victory. Following the game, the team went to the Woods farm for a barbeque.
Thursday’s opponents were a combination of three schools, Zoe Reader from Rangi Ruru, Sky Turner from St. Margarets, and Tom Turner and Bradley Pugh from St. Andrew’s. Once again, USA was well mounted, and came away with another win.
On Friday, November 23, USA played a mixed team that included Conner Jenkins, Lachie Applebee, Winston Hutinson and Lucy Grigg. In their toughest game of the trip, USA pulled out a 4-3 win in the final moments. Following the match, Applebee’s mother Trudy hosted a wonderful barbeque at her home.
Due to rain in the forecast the test match was played earlier in the week on Saturday, November 24. The Kiwi’s mounted Kaleb Watson, Henry Batchelor, Lachie Appleby and George Cronin. Early in the match USA lagged 3-1, but as teamwork improved the Americans were able to tie the match 3-all midway through the fourth chukker. New Zealand wanted to play overtime, and it was agreed that after one extra period if the score was tied, a shoot-out would be held. New Zealand had a shot on goal and missed to end regulation play and USA started the overtime period with a knock-in. An American player was fouled as the ball was knocked-in and USA was awarded a penalty 5b from midfield. Jenkins sent all three teammates forward and dropped the ball just left of goal on the 30-yard line; Zak Coleman was able to drop in and put it through for the winning goal.
The U.S. team would like to thank hosts that provided excellent accomodations the entire week, and the PTF is proud of the American players who were complemented several times on their behavior both on and off the field. A special thank you to Monique Ellis-Martin, who supervises the Christ College program, housed the boys, and was the main contact on this exchange; Rangi Ruru girl’s school for housing Grace, Willie Davidson for organizing all the polo, the Woods family for all their help, and all the families that supplied horses for the American players.