To kickstart the Memorial Day weekend, four teams met at Orange County Polo Club in Silverado, California, to battle for the illustrious National Arena Challenge Cup trophy. Taking the competition by storm, HYT Polo (Juan Gonzalez, Grace Wang, Maria Dahlmann Gupta) proved worthy of the task, defeating OC Polo (Heather Perkins, Shelley Geiler, Derek Wall, sub. Kelsey Corcoran) with a decisive 17-10 final score in the title game.
The semifinals on Saturday, May 28, saw HYT Polo meet Lakeside and OC Polo battle it out with Top Guns. In the first match, HYT Polo maintained the lead throughout the entire four chukkers to win 16-10 over Lakeside (Nicole Bankhead, Ethan Bankhead, Jasmine Lu). The following game found OC Polo narrowly edging out Top Guns (Serdar Celik, Kelli Newton, Spencer Hurtt) in a 15-14 nail-biter. Wins from both HYT Polo and OC Polo secured spots for both teams in the coveted final on Sunday, May 29.
Top Guns’ Kelli Newton and Serdar Celik.
Entering the final with a flexible mindset, HYT competitor Wang shared her team’s winning strategy that relied on adaptation, remarking, “With every team you play against, you have to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and who you mark. You’ve got to change it up. Yesterday[‘s semifinal] was a very different game than today[‘s final].”
The featured match of the tournament did not disappoint, offering fast and competitive polo to a crowd of eager spectators. From the first throw-in, HYT Polo was anxious to get on the scoreboard, with Gonzalez putting up three quick goals in the first chukker to catapult his team into the lead. Creating buzz a few minutes into the game, OC Polo’s Corcoran substituted for an injured Wall and went on to play the rest of the game. The unexpected lineup change caught OC Polo off guard and gave HYT Polo the opportunity to make swift offensive progress. The deficit increasing with each passing minute, six goals from Gonzalez and a goal from Wang left HYT Polo sitting with a comfortable 7-2 lead entering halftime.
Remarking on the success of her team’s dynamic, Gupta shared her awareness of her role on the team, saying, “I was going after the number one and two on the other team. My goal was to hook them and ride them off […] so that the higher-rated players on my team were able to get the ball and score.”
OC Polo’s Shelley Geiler takes the ball along the boards on a breakaway.
The second half saw more strong and cohesive play from the formidable HYT Polo team. While OC Polo’s Perkins and Geiler made notable efforts to turn the tide, the horse and player power generated by Gonzalez was ultimately too much to contain. Having an explosive fifth chukker, Gonzalez found his way to the goal five times and then again with a hat trick in the final chukker. Goals from all of the OC Polo players in the sixth chukker proved to be a valiant comeback effort, but HYT Polo’s offensive force was still too strong to overcome, and HYT Polo rode away National Arena Challenge Cup champions with a final score 17-10.
2022 National Arena Challenge Cup Runners-Up: OC Polo – Shelley Geiler, Derek Wall, Kelsey Corcoran, Heather Perkins. Presented by Hospital Corpsman Third Class Ivan Krimker and Major Marlene Miller.
Capturing the Most Valuable Player award, Gonzalez surprisingly noted that he has not spent much time in the arena since his interscholastic days playing for Eldorado Polo Club. “We had a couple of practice games before the tournament, a nice team meeting and a good game plan. I need[ed] a little brushing up on my rules and stuff.” A true horseman, he credited the horses he played (on loan from Hannah Taylor) largely for the win, saying, “I had some really nice horses. 75% of it is horses for me.”
Most Valuable Player was awarded to HYT Polo’s Juan Gonzalez.
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to the seasoned 19-year-old grey Atticus, played by OC Polo’s Perkins and owned by Denny Geiler. “Denny let me borrow him special for this tournament,” Perkins shared. “We use him for our polo school and Denny just celebrated his 80th birthday. He plays him and the horse is a machine. He’s perfect. Easy to turn and bump. He did everything and didn’t put a foot wrong.”
HYT Polo’s Wang received the Sportsmanship Award. A shining example of sportsmanship on and off the field, Wang’s cheery and encouraging demeanor uplifted not only her teammates, but all of the weekend’s competitors. “It’s always fun to play with new people. It’s hard sometimes because you get in the game and everyone is really into it, but you have to remind each other to just take a deep breath, it’s all good.”
Best Playing Pony Atticus, played by Heather Perkins and owned by Danny Geiler. Presented by Major Marlene Miller and Hospital Corpsman Third Class Ivan Krimker.
Perkins, also responsible for orchestrating the tournament weekend as the OC Polo club manager, was extremely proud of her players and staff that made the event possible. So much so, that the OC Polo team donated their second place winnings to the OC Polo staff. “Our ranch-hand crew really works hard to keep this place running smoothly and we couldn’t do this without them.”
Top Guns’ Kelli Newton carrying the American Flag to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, which included trophy presentations from military service members and OC Polo Club players.
In honor of Memorial Day, two OC Polo Club players were invited to present the trophies. Major Marlene Miller, who served as a boatswain mate in the the Coast Guard before becoming an Army Officer in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp and served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and Washington D.C., as well as Hospital Corpsman Third Class Ivan Krimker, who joined the Navy after 9/11 as a combat medic and was assigned to an infantry unit and later a special forces unit.
In 2004, Krimker deployed with a Battalion Landing Team in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During a battle in Najaf, Iraq, Ivan’s platoon was pinned down by heavy machine gun, sniper and rocket-propelled grenade fire. During the firefight, an rocket-propelled grenade exploded next to Ivan, knocking him unconscious and wounding his platoon sergeant. When he regained consciousness, Ivan threw himself on top of his injured platoon sergeant, protecting the sergeant from further injury. Ivan is the recipient of a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for Valor in combat and a Purple Heart.
All photos courtesy of ©Josh Kizziar.