“This team plays with so much heart and dedication to the sport so it’s a true honor to take the field with these ladies.” – Tiffany Busch
With the fresh memories of a disappointing defeat in the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® Final, BTA/The Villages (Kylie Sheehan*, Paige Boone, KC Krueger, Tiffany Busch) turned the narrow loss into motivation headed into the 2021 rematch against two-time defending champions Hawaii Polo Life (Dolores Onetto, Pamela Flanagan, Mia Cambiaso, Hazel Jackson). Once again emerging as the two strongest teams in the tournament with undefeated 3-0 records, the finalists met on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 on Saturday, March 20, each fueled by the significance of winning the prestigious trophy. Remaining locked in a tie after three chukkers of play, the teams pushed the game down to the wire with Paige Boone claiming the game-winning neckshot in the last minute of regulation. Preventing Hawaii Polo Life from sealing a historical three-peat victory, BTA/The Villages took their place as the new champions with a final score of 6-5.
All eight players in the 2021 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® were closely marked in the hard-fought final.
Coming out with the mindset to make every second count, Jackson fired a neckshot from distance to score a goal for Hawaii Polo Life within the first 30 seconds of play. Proving her accuracy from the penalty line in the previous final, Krueger stepped up and converted a Penalty 2 to match the scoreboard and end the chukker.
Trading goals with Jackson in the second chukker, BTA/The Villages relied on their teammates to be in the right position to finish off shots on goal. “The strategy was just to be really disciplined with Hazel and Mia especially when they were away from the ball because they are so well mounted,” said BTA/The Villages coach Tommy Biddle. “Hazel has very good game sense so the team tried to put pressure on her away from the ball and force her to work for every play she made.”
Hawaii Polo Life’s Hazel Jackson led her team with four goals.
Picking up her first goal of the day, Sheehan carried Busch’s shot through the goal posts on the nearside, but was quickly countered by Hawaii Polo Life’s strong drive to goal with an assist from Flanagan. Giving the ball the final push needed to reach goal, Boone contributed to the scoreboard and simultaneously tied the game at halftime 3-all. “We came into the final with a game plan, but it was about having intensity, high energy and just being disciplined and it paid off for us,” Boone said.
Hawaii Polo Life opened the second half with a complete team effort, Flanagan making a quick backshot to save the ball, setting up Cambiaso who scored her first goal of the day. Taking advantage of penalty opportunities, Krueger leveled the playing field for the third time with another Penalty 2 conversion. As the pressure mounted headed into the fourth chukker, every second became even more critical as Krueger added a third Penalty 2 to the tally. Retrieving the ball lodged in a divot, Jackson scored her fourth goal and equalized the score 5-all with only a few minutes before the final horn. Boldly going for the goal with now under a minute remaining, BTA/The Villages’ Boone gained possession off a pass from Busch and made a powerful neckshot on Viru, sealing the well-deserved victory 6-5. “Tommy told us before we went into the final chukker ‘you worked really hard to get here, you’re tied and this is your time. So if you want it bad enough, go and get it.’ And we did!” Boone shared.
“Tommy told us before we went into the final chukker ‘you worked really hard to get here, you’re tied and this is your time. So if you want it bad enough, go and get it.’ And we did!” – Paige Boone
As the only all-American team in the tournament, BTA/The Villages was especially proud to add their name to the most prestigious cup in women’s polo in the United States. “Having a team of four local players made the win that much more special because we showed them what we can do,” Sheehan said. “We’re all playing our own horses and run our own organizations. I think it’s very exciting for American polo going forward and I know a ton of amazing up-and-coming American players, so I’m hoping to see more all-American teams,” Sheehan continued.
BTA/The Villages’ Kylie Sheehan running with the ball ahead of Hawaii Polo Life’s 10-goaler Hazel Jackson.
“Hawaii Polo Life’s incredibly talented with the best horses and one of the best players in the world; I have a ton of respect for all four of those players. We knew we were going to have to really count on each other as a team and we peaked at the right time.” – Kylie Sheehan
Taking on a fierce opponent in Hawaii Polo Life, BTA/The Villages’ commitment and positive attitudes eventually paid off with the trophy. “This win means the world, to be able to go 4-0 in a 22-goal tournament like this just goes to show you how deep we can go as a team,” Busch said. “We’ve had our opportunities in the past and the beautiful thing about this team is we all just played as one and nobody gave up. We continued to give each other positive reinforcement nonstop.” “I have been trying to win this tournament since 2012 so this win was huge!” Krueger added. “Obviously I wish my mom [Chrys Beal] could have been out there with me. We tried so many times at Houston Polo Club [Houston, Texas], but still to play with an all-American team is amazing and for each of us to have our own horses and organizations.”
BTA/The Villages’ KC Krueger moves toward the ball with Hawaii Polo Life’s Mia Cambiaso on her hip.
Bringing in a coach for the first time, BTA/The Villages gained so much from having the expertise of Tommy Biddle. “Tommy’s such an experienced player and he has so much knowledge about the game,” Sheehan said. “He kept us level-headed and gave us very simple tasks. Between chukkers he broke it down for us and I think that’s what gave us the edge today, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”
Most Valuable Player Kylie Sheehan, presented by Donna de Verona.
BTA/The Villages’ Kylie Sheehan was named Most Valuable Player. “This is definitely the most exciting win of my career!” Sheehan exclaimed. “I’ve never played on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 and I’ve only played at International Polo Club Palm Beach once during the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® Final. We came back today really hungry and we felt really confident. We believed in each other and all four of us played our part on the team.”
Best Playing Pony El Pico, played by Mia Cambiaso in the third chukker, presented by USPA Governor At Large Cecelia Cochran. Pictured with Andres Luna and Andres Diaz.
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to El Pico, played by Mia Cambiaso in the third chukker. “He’s amazing and easy to play and I also played him in the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® Final,” Cambiaso said. “My father [Adolfo Cambiaso] lent him to me. We recently bought him from Lindor Novillo and my father will play him in the USPA Gold Cup® game with Scone tomorrow.”
Located in different parts of the state between south and central Florida, BTA/The Villages often utilized the convenience of Zoom for their team meetings. “It was a true COVID-19 win that way!” Sheehan remarked. “I’m super proud of each and every one of us because we put in the time and effort doing Zoom calls at 7:30am,” Busch said. “Even though I’m driving down from Vero Beach and Paige is coming from The Villages we all still made it work. We were able to get a couple of good practices in and also being able to ride our own horses made a huge difference.”
BTA/The Villages’ Tiffany Busch hugging and celebrating a BTA/The Villages victory with all four players riding their own horses.
Despite limited attendance due to club protocols, BTA/The Villages’ friends and family kept the players energized and in good spirits throughout the game. “The cheering was great! It really motivates you, especially during the times we were down by a goal,” Boone said. “They’re screaming when you’re coming to change horses and it just lifts you up when you’re riding back onto the field.”
BTA/The Villages’ Paige Boone hitting the nearside backhand under pressure from Hawaii Polo Life’s Mia Cambiaso.
Representing Flying Cow, Houston, The Villages and Vero Beach Polo Clubs, the women of BTA/The Villages are an example of hard-working women working together and persevering to achieve a common goal. “We don’t travel the world and play polo; we run polo schools and clubs here in the U.S.” Krueger said. “I think it’s a little more challenging for us, but we can come together and play with the best players in the world and I think it just shows that we are just as capable of winning. It was a really great experience for us and to know that we can play our positions and complete a goal. American women polo players are definitely on the rise!”
*Kylie Sheehan is a Team USPA Alumna. 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 ©David Lominska.