Hope Arellano heads a Who’s Who in women’s polo for the U.S. Open that will feature eight teams. Mia Cambiaso, daughter of polo great Adolfo Cambiaso, and Mia Novillo Astrada, daughter of Miguel Novillo Astrada are also in the field.
WELLINGTON—Nestled in the heart of horse country is Santa Rita Polo Farm, the epicenter for women’s polo.
The world-class facility is the home of the only full-time weekly women’s polo league in the world, created by Cardinal Newman alum Alina Carta, a polo pioneer and one of the highest ranked women in the U.S. in the 1980s, and Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club President and avid player.
Carta and Ganzi wanted to give women’s polo players, the fastest growing sector in the sport, an opportunity to play on a regular basis on world-class polo fields.
″“I just think more women are getting involved and enjoying the sport,” Carta said. “It’s fantastic, not like when I played polo with not that many girls. To think, when I started playing in 1979, we were only two girls. To see this is amazing. It’s going to keep growing.”
The women’s weekly league, now in its fourth year, is held every Wednesday during the winter polo season. On the last Wednesday of each month, a tournament is held with Most Valuable Player and Best Playing Pony honors awarded and gifts exchanged among players.
The February end-of-the month tournament was the Sunny Hale Memorial Tournament won by Masai Palm Beach. Hope Arellano, 17, a U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassador, was selected The Tackeria Most Valuable Player. Arellano, the daughter of polo player and coach Julio Arellano, is rated seventh in the women’s rankings.
Many of the league players have competed in qualifiers for the Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT), the largest women’s league in the world, which Hale founded to help open the door and break down barriers for females. The WCT final will be held at Grand Champions Polo Club next month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship begins Wednesday at Port Mayaca Polo Club with the final on March 21 at International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Arellano heads a Who’s Who in women’s polo for the U.S. Open that will feature eight teams. Mia Cambiaso, daughter of polo great Adolfo Cambiaso, and Mia Novillo Astrada, daughter of Miguel Novillo Astrada, are in the field along with 10-goaler Hazel Jackson and 8-goalers Sarah Wiseman, Lia Salvo and Cande Fernandez-Araujo.
Dawn Jones, one of the sport’s driving forces in promoting women’s polo and wife of actor and polo player Tommy Lee Jones, is pleased with the sport’s popularity among women.
Jones and seven other women players, including league player Cecelia Cochran, developed the Women’s International Polo Network website (WIPN), a non-profit that features women tournament schedules, results, player bios and stories with the objective of connecting women polo players and clubs from around the world.
Women’s polo is at the 40 percent member mark in the USPA. According to the U.S. Polo Association, there are now more women collegiate registered members than male collegiate registered members.
“The popularity of women’s polo has been a combination of things,” Jones said. “We have a lot of daughters of some great players that helped to push the next step. We always want to give Sunny Hale credit for establishing the foundation to build off of. She established ways and places for young players to play and elevate the level of polo.”
The February tournament honors Hale, the all-time greatest women’s polo player. The part-time Wellington resident died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Oklahoma due to complications from cancer. She was 48.
Twelve players competed in honor of one of the sport’s pioneers and first woman in polo history to win the 26-goal U.S. Open in an era when the sport was male-dominated.
The women’s league attracts all levels of players from beginners to advanced.
Taylor Scilufo, based in California, made her debut in the league for San Saba.
“Dawn Jones told me about this league and put me in,” said Scilufo, who has been riding less than two years and started playing polo last fall. “My first time it was overwhelming but the best experience I could have had. The people here made me feel so welcomed. Even when you’re nervous or just starting they make you feel like you belong here.”
Erica Gandomcar-Sachs, owner and manager of the Denver Polo Club, made her league debut in January.
“It’s the professionalism today in women’s polo that is so impressive,” Gandomcar-Sachs said. “Back when I started playing it was scrappy and you would come out bruised and battered. The level of professionalism has increased great play and that attracts more sponsors and players. It’s this whole waterfall effect. I always say team work makes the dream work for our sport.”
Ashley Busch, U.S. Polo Assn. Brand Ambassador and wife of race car driver Kurt Busch, has been competing with her Altair Polo teammates Brandon Phillips, Leo Mandelbaum and Kylie Sheehan in league play with and against men at Grand Champions Polo Club.
“Women’s polo has really grown, especially in the last few years,” Busch said. “Bringing old friends out on the field like Kylie, it’s just so fun to get on the field with a bunch of girls who are just strong and can really play well. It’s great.”
U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN POLO CHAMPIONSHIP
Port Mayaca Polo Club, 12499 SW Conners Highway, Okeechobee; International Polo Club, 3667 120th Avenue South, Wellington.
All preliminary games will be hosted by Port Mayaca Polo Club; the final will be held at IPC.
For information: Port Mayaca Hotline 772-597-0115; IPC Hotline 561-282-5290.
Wednesday: Rocking P vs. Hawaii Polo Life, 11 a.m.
Thursday: Dundas vs. Mint Eco Car Wash, 10:30 a.m.
Friday: Cowdray Vikings vs. BTA/Villages, 10:30 a.m.; Iconica vs. San Saba/Polo Gear, noon.
Monday: Four games, 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 19: Semifinals, 10:30 a.m. and noon.
Saturday, March 21: Final, 1 p.m.
Dundas, 22 goals: Sarah Siegel-Magness 2, Sarah Wiseman 8, Hope Arellano 7 , Erica Gandomcar-Sachs 5.
Mint Eco Car Wash, 22: Catlin Dix 4, Cecelia Cochran 5, Isabelle (Izzy) Parsons 7, Lottie Lamacraft 6.
Rocking P, 22: Bridget Price 3, Audry Persano 4, Milly Hine 5, Hazel Jackson 10.
Hawaii Polo Life, 22: Sierra Dunbar 2, Pamela Flanagan 4, Mia Cambiaso 8, Cande Fernandez-Araujo 8.
Cowdray Vikings, 22: Lila Pearson 2, Clara Cassino Seppe 7, Mia Novillo Astrada 7, Gillian Johnston 6.
BTA/The Villages, 22: Kylie Sheehan 5, Paige Boone 5, KC Krueger 6, Tiffany Busch 6.
Iconica, 21: Mili De los Milagros-Sanchez 7, Malia Bryan 5, Maureen Brennan 5, Meghan Shader 4.
San Saba/PoloGear, 22: Grace Mudra 2, Dawn Jones 6, Lia Salvo 8, Clarissa Echezarreta 6.
By Sharon Robb Special to The Pos