The National Inter-Circuit Championship Final on Sunday, March 14, at Sarasota Polo Club (Sarasota, Florida) featured a rematch of the opening game in the tournament between Hillcroft (Vaughn Miller Jr., Herndon Radcliff*, Mason Wroe*, James Miller) and newcomer Glen Farm (Sam Clemens, Tommy Huber, Marcos Onetto, Stuart Campbell), with Hillcroft avenging their only loss in the tournament to capture the title. Starting the game and the beginning of the second half riding the offense of Radcliff and Wroe, Hillcroft’s defense carried them to the 10-5 victory.
“Winning the tournament is a great achievement but forming a team that plays well together while also enjoying playing together is the most satisfying reward.” – James Miller
Each of Hillcroft’s and Glen Farm’s first three games in the tournament were decided by just one goal, but the start of Sunday’s final showcased Hillcroft’s determination to build an early lead. Scoring the first two goals of the game, Wroe made an early impact to give his team the two-goal advantage, which was increased to three after a Penalty 2 conversion from Radcliff. Clemens countered the early runaway to get Glen Farm on the scoreboard and leave them trailing 3-1 at the end of the first. Carrying the momentum into the second half, Clemens added his second goal of the game on a Penalty 2 conversion, but it was Hillcroft who reorganized and took control of the game. Radcliff’s second goal doubled up Glen Farm, but Hillcroft continued to drive forward in a balanced team performance both offensively and defensively. Holding Glen Farm scoreless for the remainder of the first half, goals from Miller and Miller Jr. propelled Hillcroft into halftime holding the 6-2 lead.
Hillcroft’s James Miller approaching the ball in Sunday’s final.
In a near repeat of the first chukker, Hillcroft turned back to their duo of Radcliff and Wroe for a combined three-goal fourth chukker to complete a run of six unanswered goals that began back in the second chukker. Facing a 9-2 difference on the scoreboard, Glen Farm tried to chip away and pull within reach, beginning with Huber’s first goal of the game, followed by a Penalty 3 conversion from Onetto, but Hillcroft’s active defense prevented a run in the late stages of the game. Miller Jr. and Huber traded goals in the sixth chukker, but Hillcroft built an insurmountable lead as time expired, and they celebrated the 10-5 triumph.
Losing out on last year’s final on a tiebreaker, Hillcroft overcame their opening game loss to Glen Farm to finish with three consecutive victories. “This is a national tournament so it’s an important one to win,” Wroe said. “In the bracket games and the semifinals we were a good defensive team but we didn’t feel like we had a lot of offensive push. However in the final everything came together and we played a complete game.”
Adding Vaughn Miller Jr. to Hillcroft’s roster for the 10-goal, Miller was happy to feature a talented young American on his team. “Vaughn [Miller Jr.] has improved every game and he is a big reason for our development as a team,” Miller said. “I am pleased I took a chance on a young American player. Giving our young professionals like him an opportunity to develop in our sport is how we grow our United States base of players and hopefully future team owners.”
Vaughn Miller Jr. captured Most Valuable Player, scoring two goals in the victory.
Vaughn Miller Jr. was named Most Valuable Player. Previously claiming the 2019 H. Ben Taub Memorial with Tonkawa, Miller Jr. had experience winning with Wroe before. “Vaughn Miller Jr. really came into his own in the final and made a lot of big plays for us,” Wroe said. “He was working hard all over the ball, made a lot of nice runs to goal and really stretched out the other team which allowed Herndon [Radcliff] and myself to find openings, work inside the game and behind defense,” Wroe continued. “I’ve played with Mason [Wroe] for two years and he is a great leader and role model,” Miller Jr. added. “It was fun to play Tommy Huber Jr. in another final since we played National Interscholastic Championships against each other in 2015 and 2016.”
Hillcroft’s Mason Wroe reaching for the ball under close watch from Glen Farm’s Sam Clemens.
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to 20-year-old Quarter horse Cheeks (High Roller), played by Mason Wroe as a spare in the first and second chukkers. “Cheeks was bred by Sunny Hale and I purchased him from her in 2012,” Wroe said. “He’s always a nice, steady go-to horse and he’s very consistent. Although he’s a larger horse he has a ton of speed, good handle, and a lot of heart which gives me a lot of confidence on him.”
Playing a little longer before retirement, Cheeks will be passed down to Wroe’s daughter Evelyn. “I’m thankful that he’s continued to excel at a high level and we’re shooting to receive the Wembley Award,” Wroe shared. “In the sport of polo it’s hard to find a horse that can tolerate being spare, so finding a horse that can stand calmly on the end line is like finding a diamond in the rough.”
Working and growing together as a team, Hillcroft was proud to see the culmination of their hard work play out in a victorious final. “Winning the tournament is a great achievement but forming a team that plays well together while also enjoying playing together is the most satisfying reward,” Miller said with a smile.
*Herndon Radcliff and Mason Wroe are 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 courtesy of ©Julio Aguilar.