Both teams showcasing impressive skill and unity to dominate in the semifinals, Five String Farm (Cindy Halle, Lindsey Morris, Jessica Schmitt) and Bad Ass Polo (Posey Obrecht, Anna Winslow-Palacios*, Victoria Picha) faced off for the USPA Women’s Arena Open title on Sunday, October 4, at Great Meadow Polo Club in The Plains, Virginia. Marking their women well, Bad Ass Polo erased their third chukker deficit by the end of the fourth, firing on their opponents to level the scoreboard 11-all. Forcing the championship into a penalty shootout, Five String Farm’s Cindy Halle performed under pressure securing the only overtime penalty goal to win the trophy 12-11.
Bad Ass Polo’s Anna Winslow-Palacios goes for a hook on Five String Farm’s Cindy Halle.
Guiding the ball along the wall, Winslow-Palacios demonstrated full control of the ball from the start, picking up the first of many goals in the game. Five String Farm’s 16-year-old Morris earned an early two-pointer, riding Garrison Forest School polo pony Billete, to answer back for Five String Farm. Leading the offensive charge for their respective teams, the two women ended the first with a tied scoreboard 3-all. The first half remained tight with great plays on either side allowing more team members to add to the tally. In the right place at the right time, Schmitt picked up two goals, placing Five String Farm in the lead 6-5 and outscoring their opponents.
Continuing the momentum for her team, Schmitt shined in the third, adding three more goals with the support of her teammates. Halle, taking out her former student Obrecht, cleared the way for Schmitt in the final goal of the period to end the chukker 8-5 holding Bad Ass Polo scoreless. Down by three, Bad Ass Polo quickly turned up the heat in the fourth, exploding in the arena with three consecutive goals by Winslow-Palacios on 11-year-old bay Thoroughbred gelding Marius to level the playing field. Morris momentarily took back the lead before Obrecht followed up with three goals of her own to put Five String Farm on the defensive. Taking action just in time, Morris struck twice more and effectively pushed the game into a penalty shootout 11-all. “They came out in that fourth chukker kicking some butt and we were scrambling, but we got it back together” revealed Halle.
Opening up the shootout for Five String Farm, Halle hit the ball to goal on Estrella (played in the first and the fourth chukkers), her first and most important goal of the game. Every woman taking her place on the penalty line, each missed the mark and the former Garrison Forest School Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) coach enjoyed schooling her previous students (Obrecht and Winslow-Palacios) with a 12-11 victory. “No one wants to end a game in a shootout, but it happens. I was really happy because I switched to Estrella in the middle of the fourth chukker, she is an absolute couch of a horse, so that made my job a little bit easier. It’s hard to do that under pressure and I just got lucky.” Halle said. “This was one of those games where it could have gone either way but I think not being selfish on the field and trying to get the job done worked in our favor,” Halle continued.
Most Valuable Player Jessica Schmitt of Five String Farm’s thunders forward to the ball.
Responsible for seven goals, the most on her team, Morris is currently a junior at Garrison Forest School and plays on the varsity I/I team. “This is my first big tournament outside of I/I!” Morris said. “I’m happy to win with my former interscholastic coach.” Halle gushed about her former student, “she started with me in fourth grade until eighth and she’s been on varsity all three years of her Upper School career. She’s an athlete and could probably excel at any sport but she narrowed it down to polo.”
Jessica Schmitt was named Most Valuable Player. An alumni from the University of Virginia intercollegiate team, Schmitt played for the first time with Halle but remarked that it felt like they had played together before. “I thought we played well as a team and made good passes and backshots,” Schmitt said. “We trusted each other to do our jobs and it paid off in the end. It was a lot of fun playing with friends who I played against in college which made the experience even better.”
Best Playing Pony Daisy, played by Cindy Halle and owned by Doug Barnes.
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Daisy, a palomino mare owned by Doug Barnes and played by Cindy Halle in the third chukker. Halle rented Daisy for both days of the tournament as the fourth mare in her string suffered a small injury last week. “Daisy was super handy and easy to hit off of but probably what I liked most about her is that she is one of those little horses that drops her shoulder into a bump and just keeps pushing,” Halle said. “I was able to get a lot of plays just because she would win the bump, but she was also very quick on the line changes.”
Guapo’s Maria Ottonello received the Sportsmanship Award and a $2,500 Catena Swiss watch. “It’s a real honor to have been chosen for this award from the group of women,” Ottonello said with humility.
*Anna Winslow-Palacios is a Team USPA alumni. 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 ©David Murrell.