Capping off a thrilling week of women’s polo at Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas, the Southwestern Circuit Women’s Challenge came to a close with an explosive final between Chandler Ranch (Megan Flynn, Tiamo Hudspeth*, Stephanie Massey Colburn*, Roxy Mounter) and Spiritless (Jenna Davis, Cara Kennedy, Grace Mudra, Kaile Roos). Many of the players fresh out of playing in the U.S. Open Women’s Handicap, the game was back-and-forth and ultimately decided by a goal-and-a-half, with Spiritless escaping with the 4.5-3 victory.
“My job was to go to the best player on the opposing team and make their day tough. It wasn’t an easy job for me, a lot of the players I had to mark are some of the ladies I look up to in the sport.” – Kaile Roos
Mudra detailed how the Spiritless team came together several months ago, sharing, “This past summer, Cara, Jenna and I played in Chicago, and knew we wanted to put a team together for the Houston Women’s tournament. We then began the search for a fourth and we reached out to Kaile, which was the perfect addition to the three of us. We all instantly meshed, and our natural positions made us a well-balanced team from the beginning.” Roos shared her appreciation for Houston Polo Club Assistant Polo Manager KC Krueger connecting her with the Spiritless team, noting, “I have to give KC Krueger so much credit for getting me down to Texas and on a team to play in this tournament. With her help, she put me in touch with Grace, Cara, and Jenna—a dream team!”
With Spiritless receiving half a goal on handicap at the onset of the game, Chandler Ranch was eager to settle the score. Hudspeth fired quickly out of the gates with a field goal. A response from Mudra, however, kept Spiritless narrowly in the lead 1.5-1 at the end of the first chukker. Roos opened the scoring for the second, but Flynn and Hudspeth answered for Chandler Ranch to take the lead for the first time at the break, 3-2.5.
Spiritless’ Cara Kennedy leads the pack downfield riding Best Playing Pony Amateur, Peanut.
Entering the competition, Spiritless created an effective strategy, with each player having a clear role on the team. Roos explained her responsibilities, “My job was to go to the best player on the opposing team and make their day tough. It wasn’t an easy job for me, a lot of the players I had to mark are some of the ladies I look up to in the sport.” Similarly, Kennedy took on a defensive position, adding, “My role was to go to one of the stronger players on the opposing team and take them out, so Grace and Jenna had more time to make plays.” Collectively recognizing a need to constantly have someone marking Chandler Ranch team captain and experienced women’s player, Hudspeth, Kennedy continued, “We really focused on [covering] Tiamo. She played amazing all week in both the Challenge and the Handicap. Sending me or Kaile to her gave Grace and Jenna time to think.”
Mudra also noted how her team was able to prepare for this tournament. “Leading up to women’s week, we got the opportunity to practice in a 6 goal, which helped us be quicker and tighter on a man. This also allowed us to get to know each other to create plays that worked for us, and gain trust with one another.”
Spiritless – Kaile Roos, Jenna Davis, Cara Kennedy, Grace Mudra.
Putting their strategy and preparation into full effect in the second half, Spiritless held Chandler Ranch scoreless for the remainder of the game while Kennedy was able to find the goal once each chukker to seal the 4.5-3 victory for her team. Kennedy, the high scorer for her team, shared what she believed helped Spiritless succeed. “I think we performed well because we knew each other and how each of us plays. Me and Grace have been playing together forever, so I always know what she’s thinking or what she’s going to do. I knew how Jenna played and how well she plays No. 4. We got two practices in as a team and Kaile just fit right in.”
Roos added, “We knew Chandler Ranch was a balanced team. Tiamo, Roxy, Meghan and Stephanie are four tough players, and we knew it was going to be a tough team to beat. We all needed to stay very disciplined with our man and communicate to one another if one of us was ever behind. It was also really important for us to back each other up and always win the second position when running down the field.”
For her impressive performance on both the offensive and defensive ends of the game, Grace Mudra was awarded Most Valuable Player. Thankful for this recognition, Mudra shared, “I am so grateful to have earned the MVP award. I know it would not have been possible without all the support of my family and friends, but especially my dad for being the best coach, and working so hard with our horses to get them in the best condition for the tournament.” Mudra’s win in this tournament marked her second of the week after triumphing with QR Jets in the U.S. Open Women’s Handicap.
Most Valuable Player Grace Mudra, presented by Diageo’s Dustin Ipson.
Indigo Wood, a 9-year-old registered American Quarter Horse mare played by Tiamo Hudspeth and owned by Bobby McCan, was awarded Best Playing Pony Professional. A horse very meaningful to Hudspeth, she doted, “Indigo plays for me in this tournament every year. She’s a huge asset to my string [and] she’s a mare that gets better and better as the chukker goes on. Indigo is a game changer, no doubt. She’s the horse I pick to get on and try to change the game if it’s not heading our direction and she always gives me her best. She’s fast, powerful, lateral, easy to hit the ball off of, and has a feather light mouth. She’s one of my all-time favorite horses and I’m so happy she stood out this tournament and was awarded BPP. She definitely earned it.” Indigo also played for Hudspeth in the U.S. Open Women’s Handicap and is a horse that Hudspeth had the opportunity to train herself.
Best Playing Pony Indigo, played by Tiamo Hudspeth, owned by Bobby McCan. Presented by Diageo’s Dustin Ipson, pictured with Madison Montalvo and Claire Gatzke.
Peanut, a 7-year-old dun Appendix Quarter Horse played by Cara Kennedy in the third chukker and owned by Colleen Williams, was awarded Best Playing Pony Amateur. Describing Peanut, Kennedy detailed, “She is one of Colleen’s homebreds. She was trained by Troy and Joscelyn Lequerica. I am so lucky I got the chance to play her this week. I’m so excited for Colleen, it made my week to see how happy the award made her!” Kennedy continued, “Peanut is a great women’s horse because she’s big and can take a bump. She’s always quick and handy. And of course, she’s just too cute! I can’t wait to see all this mare will accomplish.”
Best Playing Pony Amateur Peanut, played by Cara Kennedy, owned by Colleen Williams. Presented by Diageo’s Dustin Ipson, pictured with Carlos Gonzalez.
*Tiamo Hudsepth and Stephanie Massey Colburn are Team USPA alumnae. 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 ©Kaylee Wroe.