Hosted by the Army Polo Club (The Plains Virginia), the final of the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup culminated in a showdown between Navy (LCDR, JAGC, USN Andrea Logan, Lieutenant Michael Muldoon, Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins) and Army Gold (Chief Warrant Officer Joe England, Lieutenant Colonel Amos Peterson, Captain Patrick Shanahan) at Twilight Polo Club (Middleburg, Virginia) from Friday, October 7 through Sunday, October 9.
Established in 2018 to unite branches of the armed forces in camaraderie and competition, the fifth edition of the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup featured many returning competitors and familiar faces, including four Culver Military Academy (Culver, Indiana) graduates (Alex Jenkins, Patrick Shanahan, Justin Kline, Michael Muldoon). Seeking their third title (2018, 2021), Army Gold was pitted against Navy for the second consecutive year. Returning finalist Jenkins commanded Navy with a team leading six goals and a fourth chukker comeback to overcome a historic rival to earn their first National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup title 12-10.
“It’s always been a hard-fought battle and last year we almost had it. This is monumental for us, and it was very emotional for Andrea and me to win after all these years of trying.” – Alex Jenkins, Petty Officer Second Class
An overall fun and collaborative event that united the military community, there were several activities held in conjunction with the tournament that led up to Sunday’s final. On Saturday morning, a clinic was held for all military personnel interested in trying their hand at polo. Many of the tournament’s participants were involved, helping to teach total newcomers the ropes.
Navy’s Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins played interscholastic polo at Culver Academy, intercollegiate polo at Colorado State University and now plays at Army Polo Club. ©Tony Gibson
On Saturday evening, tournament participants were treated to the first annual dining out associated with the National Commander-in-Chief Cup at the Army Navy Club in Washington, D.C. In the United States Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force, a “dining out” is a formal dinner that includes spouses and other guests (The United States Marine Corps refer to it as a mess night). The more formal counterpart to this event is referred to as a “dining in,” which is an event specifically for all unit members that includes more military traditions. During the event, Colonel Marisa Tanner, U.S. Army Retired, was presented the General George S. Patton Jr. Award, a national award that recognizes a USPA member who has gone above the call of duty to create opportunities for military members and families to become involved in the sport of polo. Ultimately, the event was enjoyed by all, spurring camaraderie across the field of competitors, and celebrating the growing military presence within the sport of polo.
After an already lively weekend, Sunday afternoon ushered in the National Commander-in-Chief Cup final. Awarding Army Gold one goal on handicap, Navy’s Jenkins initiated play with back-to-back goals, including an early two-pointer. England answered for Army Gold’s lone goal of the chukker. Trailing 4-3 to open the second, England was back on the scoreboard alongside Peterson to give Army Gold a brief lead, but Navy was back on the attack with consecutive goals from Muldoon to give Navy a 6-5 advantage. Trading scores before the horn, a final two-point drive from Jenkins secured the narrow 8-6 lead for Navy at the half.
Navy’s Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins and Army Gold’s Captain Patrick Shanahan battle for possession. ©Tony Gibson
Carrying a two-goal advantage into the break, Logan shared the strengths of Navy’s roster, “Alex Jenkins and Mike Muldoon are terrific teammates, I’ve been playing with Jenkins on the Navy team for three years, he’s an incredibly gifted strategic player and brings out the strengths of his teammates as a team captain.”
“Army Gold is an incredibly strong and talented team, they can cover the arena with single spot hit. Playing defense at the goal line, covering the man, and getting the backshots to Jenkins was critical.” – Andrea Logan, LCDR, JAGC, USN
Drawing a Penalty 1 to open the second half, Army Gold took control of the third chukker. Offensive contributions from Shanahan and Peterson propelled the team in yellow back into the lead, 10-8. Requiring a strong chukker to pull themselves across the finish line, Logan noted, “Army Gold is an incredibly strong and talented team, they can cover the arena with single spot hit. Playing defense at the goal line, covering the man, and getting the backshots to Jenkins was critical.” Discussing late game strategy, Muldoon continued, “I’d heard of Joe England’s talent, and I played polo in high school alongside Patrick Shanahan, so I knew I had my work cut out to cover them.” Jenkins added, “They’re a really well-balanced team, so we tried to capitalize on our ability to use each other, trying to communicate where we could set each other up for breakaways.”
Lieutenant Michael Muldoon found common ground with his teammate, Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins, through their shared educational backgrounds at Culver Military Academy. ©Tony Gibson
Shifting momentum once more in the fourth, a Penalty 1 for Navy ignited a run of their own on a quick goal from Muldoon. Jenkins broke down the crucial play to re-tie the contest, “Michael called for a backshot, and he was all alone, I could see the Army team getting frustrated because they were all coming at me, and he turned to get the breakaway. It was a beautiful play that took a jab at their morale.” Keeping the offensive pressure on Army Gold, two more off the mallet of Jenkins coupled with a defensive shutout delivered Navy the 12-10 victory and coveted title.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Logan, “in the last chukker it all just clicked. When the buzzer went off, I looked at Jenkins and we were in shock that we finally won it! I’m so glad we could bring it home for Navy.” Jenkins added, “It’s always been a hard-fought battle and last year we almost had it. This is monumental for us, and it was very emotional for Andrea and me to win after all these years of trying.”
Navy’s Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins, LCDR, JAGC, USN, Andrea Logan and Lieutenant Michael Muldoon brought home the first win for Navy in the history of the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup. ©Tony Gibson
“It’s hard to play polo at sea on an aircraft carrier, but I’ve found opportunities to play with Army Polo Club thanks to Mark Gillespie, who has opened up many opportunities for many active duty and women players.” – Andrea Logan, LCDR, JAGC, USN
Earning his first National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup title, an elated Muldoon reflected on his formative years in the polo world, “I grew up going to my father’s games and often grooming for him. I’ve been riding as long as I can remember, but he convinced me to play polo when I was a teenager. Home for me is the Potomac Polo Club in Poolesville, Maryland, but I haven’t played polo in years, so I’ll be walking this off for days!”
Playing interscholastic polo at Culver Academy, intercollegiate polo at Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado) and now calling Army Polo Club home, Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins was named Most Valuable Player. “It was nice to win on home turf and it helped [that] I hit two two-pointers!” said Jenkins. Making a connection with teammate and fellow Culver Academy graduate Muldoon, Jenkins was quick to jest, “Michael and I started talking about professors we had, and it was cool to reminisce, we were teasing Mark Gillespie because he’s a West Point grad and we were saying, ‘it’s all about Culver Academy!'”
Most Valuable Player Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins led Navy in the final with six goals. ©Tony Gibson
Venus, a 13-year-old appendix quarter horse played by Captain Patrick Shanahan in the first chukker and Lieutenant Michael Muldoon in the third, was awarded Best Playing Pony. An interesting addition to the tournament, Muldoon described how the competition followed a split-string format. “We were doing it intercollegiate style [where] we switched strings. All horses were played by Army Gold one chukker and Navy in a later chukker.”
Owned by Zak Coleman, Venus recently made an appearance in the United States Arena Handicap. “We found Venus abandoned on a farm a few years ago,” Coleman shared. “She formerly only played grass polo. We rehabbed her and now she is an exceptional horse and a personal favorite in my string.” Speaking to the complexities of splitting a string Jenkins noted, “It’s truly a measure of the player, I’ve never really ridden these horses before and it was awesome that Doug Barnes and Dan Coleman were able to provide horses for the tournament.”
Currently stationed in San Diego, California, and a Judge Advocate for the Navy, Logan shared her journey playing polo as an active service member. “I began playing intercollegiate polo at the University of California Santa Barbara [Santa Barbara, California]. Buddy Linfoot and Jon Wesley gave me my first lesson and taught me that polo was 80% horsemanship and the result of teamwork. Since joining the Navy, I rekindled my love for the sport while getting my Master of Laws (LLM) at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in 2016. I played with Virginia Polo [Charlottesville, Virginia] and Lou Lopez introduced me to (Major Ret.) Mark Gillespie. It’s hard to play polo at sea on an aircraft carrier, but I’ve found opportunities to play with Army Polo Club thanks to Mark Gillespie, who has opened up many opportunities for many active duty and women players.”