After heated semifinals competition shrunk the original four teams vying for $10,000 in prize money and arena polo glory to two, the USPA Women’s Arena Handicap Final took place on Saturday, August 27 at Twilight Polo Club in Middleburg, Virginia. Featuring a real estate match-up between Marlan Farm (Izzy Brockett, Sierra Blevins, Kelly Wells) and Five String Farm (Ava Nunes, Cindy Halle, Marisa Bianchi), the physical game showcased teamwork and talent. Ultimately, Marlan Farm’s consistent energy on the field, ability to stick tight to the boards and capacity to trust in each other secured a decisive 17-11 win.
Both teams delivering impressive semifinal performances to earn their position in Saturday’s title game, Marlan Farm powered past Parkgate Polo 19-9, with eight goals off the mallet of women’s arena 7-goaler Wells. Shortly after, Five String Farm defeated defending champions Rebellis Farm, mounting a major comeback with a 10-goal third chukker to find their way to the final.
Five String Farm’s Marisa Bianchi and Marlan Farm’s Kelly Wells race down the arena. ©Doug Stroud
“We knew this game was going to be tough because Cindy and Marisa are very experienced,” shared Wells of her team’s strategy and mindset. “I think we were very fired up in the first game to get to the finals. Today, I think we were a little bit more edgy and nervous because this is such an experienced team. The girls played extremely well under pressure for being as young as they are, they were making amazing plays.”
Beginning the game with one goal on handicap, Marlan Farm wasted no time building on their lead, with Blevins and Wells joining forces to put three goals on the board early in the match. Five String Farm’s Halle found the goal once from the field and penalty line to close the deficit, ending the first chukker 4-2 in favor of Marlan Farm.
Marlan Farm’s Izzy Brockett got her start in polo through her parents’ love of the sport. Her mom, Arabella Brockett, even played under Wells when she was in high school. ©Doug Stroud
“I’m experienced enough to observe what’s happening and direct them. But them doing it–it’s one thing to tell them to go do it, but then when they actually execute–that’s what’s really fun to watch.” – Kelly Wells
Marlan Farm’s synergy is largely due to extensive experience playing together. Brockett and Blevins, both 14, compete under Wells’ leadership in interscholastic polo for Marlan Farm in Maryland. Experiencing great success, the team recently advanced to the National Girls’ Interscholastic Championship. Brockett, delighted to rejoin her Marlan Farm family in competition, shared, “I’ve been playing outdoor most of the summer and I haven’t hit an indoor ball very much. We are going into the interscholastic season soon with school starting, so it was so much fun to play with Kelly and Sierra. Sierra’s one of my teammates, and it was so great to get to play with her for the first time this summer.”
Wells, accustomed to coaching Brockett and Blevins and now having the opportunity to play alongside them, attributed the team’s success to her up-and-coming teammates. “I’m experienced enough to observe what’s happening and direct them,” Wells said. “But them doing it–it’s one thing to tell them to go do it, but then when they actually execute–that’s what’s really fun to watch.”
Marlan Farm’s Kelly Wells is an experienced player and coach. Under her leadership, her interscholastic teams have secured multiple national titles over the years in both the girls’ and the open divisions. ©Mike Ryan
An ace from the penalty line, Halle’s focus and accuracy helped spur the momentum for Five String Farm, adding three penalty conversions and an additional field goal. Marlan Farm’s unrelenting offense matched Five String Farm every step of the way, with all three players contributing to increase Marlan Farm’s lead and end the half 9-6.
High school freshman Blevins got her start in the sport almost by chance. “I started riding about four years ago. I played lacrosse with one of Kelly’s students, and they donated two free lessons at an event. My parents bid on it, and we won! I did two riding lessons and then I started playing polo. I wasn’t expecting that at all, but now I’m hooked!”
Brockett and Blevins, both 14, compete under Wells’ leadership in interscholastic polo for Marlan Farm in Maryland. ©Doug Stroud
“The girls played extremely well under pressure for being as young as they are, they were making amazing plays.” – Kelly Wells
With the third chukker underway, the teams traded goals, leaving spectators to wonder if Five String Farm would manage a comeback. Two goals and a two-pointer from Blevins gave Marlan Farm’s scoresheet a welcome boost, but three goals from Halle kept Five String Farm in the running. A late Penalty 2 conversion from Wells helped Marlan Farm outscore their opponent to create a 14-9 advantage entering the final chukker.
Another rising star, Brockett’s journey to polo was fueled by family. “Both my parents played in college, and my mom actually played for Kelly in highschool. That’s how my family got into polo. I’ve been with Kelly forever and as long as I can remember I’ve been on a horse.” Establishing a sturdy foundation in riding, Brockett’s ability to perform well on the field and in the arena can be largely attributed to her strong sense of horsemanship.
“The teamwork that those interscholastic players have with each other, and obviously because Kelly coaches them, that synergy was really hard to play against. They had so much trust in each other, they knew each other so well, and they are so good at getting the boards!” – Cindy Halle, Most Valuable Player
Marlan Farm’s Izzy Brockett aboard Infinity. ©Doug Stroud
A quick goal from Halle to jumpstart the fourth seemed like it could spark a late comeback effort for her team, but a successful Penalty 3 from Wells turned momentum back in Marlan Farm’s direction. Two subsequent goals from Brockett and Blevins kept the team ahead as the clock wound down. Bianchi found the goal late in the chukker, but as the final horn sounded, Marlan Farm held fast to a 17-11 lead to secure the USPA Women’s Arena Handicap title.
Incredibly proud of and grateful for her team of young players, Wells remarked, “I’m thrilled. Four years ago, I played with my daughter Marissa [Wells] in the USPA Women’s Arena Open and another student, Sophie Grant. I thought, that’s the pinnacle of my career, I should just be done–what am I going to do after that? These girls at this time were 10 years old. To see them four years later doing a tournament like this against these top women and playing as well as they did, my pride is booming.”
Most Valuable Player Cindy Halle greets fans on the sidelines. ©Doug Stroud
Scoring 10 of her team’s 11 goals, Cindy Halle was awarded Most Valuable Player. The consummate sportswoman, Halle applauded the Marlan Farm team. “The teamwork that those interscholastic players have with each other, and obviously because Kelly coaches them, that synergy was really hard to play against,” she said. “They had so much trust in each other, they knew each other so well, and they are so good at getting the boards!”
Blevins’ 17-year-old gray thoroughbred gelding Toby, played in the third chukker, was presented Best Playing Pony honors. Originally owned by Branden Van Loon, Toby was bought by the Grant family and then later came into Wells’ ownership for her interscholastic program. Toby went on to retire for two years as a foxhunter, but when he was for sale again, Wells encouraged Blevins to buy him.
Best Playing Pony Toby, played and owned by Sierra Blevins, presented by USPA Tournament Manager Kaila Dowd and Twilight Polo Club Events Manager Whitney Ross.
Wells, appreciative of the tournament’s prize money reward, added, “I think we fought really hard to make it to the finals because we knew we would get our entry fee back. As you can see, we really wanted to win it! I think the money was important, because we always have a lot of expenses in the sport. Many of us are not billionaires.”