Overjoyed to resume competitive tournament polo for the first time since the COVID-19 suspension went into effect in March, five teams took to the field in the Southeastern Circuit Governor’s Cup at Point Clear Polo Club in Silverhill, Alabama. Easing back into polo after an unprecedented halt to USPA tournaments across the country, the members of the participating teams played with a renewed sense of appreciation for the game, welcoming fresh faces to the club. Advancing to the final on Sunday, May 17, Arcola led until the final chukker, but No Trees/Cabo Wabo reevaluated their strategy in the second half to close the deficit and seal the narrow win 5.5-5.
Receiving a half goal on handicap from the onset, No Trees/Cabo Wabo was immediately met by two strong goals from Arcola who quickly took the lead in the first. Breaking his team’s silence, Craig Duke opened the second with one from the field but Bill Mackey answered back. As both sides traded goals in an offensive chukker, Arcola held onto their initial lead to end the half 4-2.5.
Taking a different approach in the second half as recommended by Tommy Collingwood, No Trees/Cabo Wabo slowly began to chip away at their opponent’s lead throughout the remainder of the game. “In the first half we were trying to line up talent against talent rather than just playing our positions,” Hutch Radcliff said. “In the second half we just changed who we were each defending based on our playing positions and that was the game changer.” Claiming his first goal of the day and the only goal of the third, Hutch Radcliff was able to put his team within a half goal headed into the final chukker with a family effort from his wife Elizabeth and daughter GiGi (alternate) defending. Assuming the advantage briefly with a goal by Collingwood, No Trees/Cabo Wabo continued to fight for the trophy with a goal off the mallet of Juan Martinez-Baez. Striking in the final minutes, Hutch Radcliff’s final push came just in time as No Trees/Cabo Wabo seized the trophy 5.5-5.
Arcola’s Juan Martinez-Baez.
“We didn’t realize this was the first USPA tournament until after the fact so it boosted the win even more!” said Craig Duke, a longtime friend of Hutch and the Radcliff family. “I felt honored to win the title with the group on my team.”
Nearly two months since the USPA polo suspension went into effect, the team members were especially grateful to return to the field and play the game they love. “It was great to be back playing polo after weeks of quarantine,” Hutch Radcliff said. “The games were intense and competitive, but everyone had a smile on their face, win or lose. I think we all recognized and were reminded about our passion for competitive polo tournaments, something that was restricted because of COVID-19.” “It felt good to finally be back on the field since the pandemic started, but luckily everyone is being safe and taking all the precautions,” Collingwood echoed.
Playing for Parrotheads, Jim Horne was named Most Valuable Player – Amateur of the tournament. “I couldn’t be more thrilled winning MVP at 68 years old and making two good plays in the same day!” Horne exclaimed.
String of polo ponies getting ready to play in the tournament.
Taking advantage of the USPA Polo Tournament Stimulus Package and gathering together several players who had to change their plans due to COVID-19, Herndon Radcliff was able to bring in polo talent that would not typically be available. “Herndon Radcliff really organized this tournament and made it a success,” Hutch Radcliff revealed. “He worked extremely hard to bring in pros like Collingwood and Felipe Viana* whose seasons were cut short in Florida, and they have been helping to coach our members. Point Clear Polo Club has not had this level of polo in over 20 years so while COVID-19 has been terrible to deal with in many ways, it has also been fantastic for improving the skill level at our club!”
*Felipe Viana is a Team USPA alumnus. 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 ©Caroline Bramlett