Defeating many impressive colleges from across the United States to qualify, four teams advanced to Wednesday’s USPA National Intercollegiate Championship Women’s Semifinal on April 4, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California. The first game belonged to Texas A&M University (TAMU) whose quick and precise shots on goal earned them a comfortable win 17-6 over California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). In the second semifinal, the University of Virginia (UVA) set a fast pace early on, ultimately overtaking Cornell University 13-8 to claim their spot in the final. Texas A&M will challenge defending champions UVA this Saturday, April 7, at 3:00pm ET for the coveted championship title.
AGGIES DOMINATE TO SECURE FIRST FINAL POSITION
Moving straight into the women’s semifinals, Texas A&M prepared to challenge local team Cal Poly in the USPA National Intercollegiate Championships (NIC). Dominating the game from the first chukker, Texas A&M’s strong offensive plays and accurate shots on goal cemented their position in the final 17-6.
Knowing Cal Poly had the advantage of familiarity with the horses, Texas A&M made a solid start from the first throw-in and established a commanding lead which grew with every chukker. Powerful from both the penalty line and the field, high-scorer Marissa Wells* started off the charge, combining with Ally Vaughn and Kendall Plank for six unanswered goals by the end of the first. Moving strategically and quickly from end to end, Wells produced the first two-point shot of the game to open the second, shortly followed by a penalty conversion. “We knew it was going to be competitive since Cal Poly is a home team and playing on their own horses,” Wells said. “We knew we had to go to the man hard, rotate, hit the ball well, and score goals. Margarita was really handy in the first chukker and she allowed me to get quickly back to the ball so I scored a lot of goals on her.” Aware of the tremendous gap Cal Poly’s Trista Noland fought past defenders to put the first goal on the board for Cal Poly before halftime. The sole TAMU scorer in the second, Wells added one more to end the half 10-1 in favor of Texas A&M.
The second half continued much like the first, as Courtney Price stepped in for Vaughn and all three Texas A&M players landed on the scoreboard. Operating effectively as a team, the Texas women ran another series of strong offensive plays, collecting goals with rapid succession. Nailing six consecutive shots including a two-pointer from Wells, Texas A&M increased their lead significantly by the end of the third 17-2. Headed into the final chukker, Wells stepped out of the arena to allow for Vaughn’s return. Cal Poly began to gain some momentum as Nolan charged to the wall and hit a backshot, followed up by a second field goal by Fiona McBride-Luman. Nolan kept the momentum going, but time was running out. Although Texas A&M went scoreless in the fourth, their substantial lead held firm, deciding the victory 17-6.
Securing their spot in the Saturday final, Texas A&M is focused on claiming the championship win after coming close in previous years. “It’s a great honor to reach the finals of the NIC and I’m so excited to be competing for the national title,” Wells reflected. “It’s our third year going into the finals so hopefully we can win the championship title this year.”
UVA ON A MISSION TO DEFEND THEIR TITLE
Stepping into the arena as the defending women’s champions, UVA anticipated a tough game against historic rivals Cornell. Opening the game with a strong first chukker UVA worked diligently to hold the lead, their efforts paying off with a place in the final 13-8.
Without hesitation, UVA made every minute count in the first, scoring five goals, each UVA member adding to the scoreboard. Countering with a single penalty conversion, Cornell was unable to defend their goal against the aggressive plays of UVA ending the first 5-1. “I thought they put in a tremendous effort today,” UVA coach Lou Lopez commented. “For every goal that Cornell scored we came back and fired another one in their goal.” Recovering from the first period, Cornell returned with renewed intensity in the second and steadily began to make successful plays happen. A field goal from Shariah Harris was followed by two consecutive goals from Hannah Noyes which began to propel Cornell in the right direction, yet the scoreboard stood 7-4 in favor of UVA at halftime.
Penalties continued to be called on both sides in the second half as the teams battled for possession. Back and forth the goals went, UVA’s Katie Mitcham adding two to open the third. Claiming both her first goal and the first two-pointer of the game, Anna Ullman kept Cornell competitive and within three headed into the final chukker 7-10. Mitcham started off the fourth once again with a goal while teammate Sadie Bryant came through with her fourth of the day, a two-point shot to seal the hard-earned win 13-8.
“These women really wanted to win today,” Lopez said. “They have been working hard the past 30 days to prepare, having me out there six days a week, doing drills and practicing penalty shots and backshots.”
Scoring three goals from the penalty line, Jessica Schmitt was optimistic about the rematch against Texas A&M. “I think if we play as hard and as well as we did today we’ll have a really good chance of winning the final,” Schmitt said. “We just have to work as a team and go out and have fun.”
Texas A&M will go head-to-head with UVA on Saturday, April 7, at 3:00pm ET to decide the winner of the 2018 USPA National Intercollegiate Championship Women’s Final. The USPA Polo Network on uspolo.org will livestream the men’s semifinals on Thursday, April 5, beginning at 5:00pm ET and both finals on Saturday, April 7.
*Marissa Wells 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 ©Jim Bremner.