The Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship (GNIS) spanned March 15-19 at Brookshire Polo Club in Brookshire, Texas. Bringing together the top five girls’ interscholastic teams in the country, the competition ultimately dwindled down to a rematch of the Southeastern Regional, with Maryland (Kylie Beard, Sierra Blevins, Rory Knox, Isabelle Brockett) meeting Aiken (Alea Crespo, Brianna Jordan, Madison Jordan, Summer Kneece). Separated by just two goals headed into the final chukker, a powerful performance from all three Aiken players created distance between the defending champions and their opponent, ultimately leading to their third consecutive Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship 13-8.
In February, Maryland defeated Aiken in the Southeastern Regional, placing the red and black team in the number one seeded position advancing straight to the GNIS semifinals. Aiken was selected as a Wild Card competitor. They qualified directly into the semifinals as well, where they defeated Maui (Jade Hiltbrand, Emily Coflin, Leah Melzer, Elizabeth Miranda) 22-5 to earn their spot in the national championship. Maryland met and defeated Kingswood (Bryn Whitten, Isabel Poniatowski, Emerson Bruce) 17-6 to earn their place in the title match.
Aiken’s Madison Jordan and Maryland’s Sierra Blevins charge down the boards.
In terms of Aiken’s preparation, Madison Jordan commented, “My team prepared by playing fast practices in Aiken with some strong players and we played some competitive games to prepare by playing the [University of Virginia] women’s team two times.”
“We played them at regionals in February and lost. We watched game tape and knew what we needed to correct. Maryland was very quick and did a great job talking to each other.” – Summer Kneece
Additionally, Aiken felt confident in how to adjust their strategy to meet Maryland. Kneece shared, “We played them at regionals in February and lost. We watched game tape and knew what we needed to correct. Maryland was very quick and did a great job talking to each other.” Similarly, Madison Jordan continued, “The Maryland girls are a very physical team, so we were looking out for that, and especially getting the wall. The Maryland girls were very good at getting the wall, so we knew we had to be quicker than them.”
Aiken’s Madison Jordan reaches for the ball with Maryland’s Aurora Knox and Kylie Beard on defense.
As the ball was thrown in, Maryland made the first move, with a goal from Knox which was equalized by Jordan. Solid from the penalty line, Brockett scored two goals, but Kneece quickly worked to move momentum in Aiken’s favor converting a penalty of her own, plus two field goals including the first two-pointer of the game to end the chukker leading 5-4.
Discussing Aiken’s plan of attack further, Madison Jordan shared, “My team’s strategy going into the final was to play smart and be quick on offense and defense. My team really focused on working together and backing each other up, which really made the difference in this tournament.”
Summer Kneece led Aiken in scoring, including hitting her second two-pointer of the game before the half.
“We like to call it four mini games. We have to go win the first throw-in and win each chukker. We knew we needed to be aggressive and quick. Our goal was to not appeal, keep our heads down and play polo.” – Summer Kneece
The teams exchanging goals once again, Beard and Kneece both found the goal twice. Kneece’s second shot, another two pointer from distance, gave Aiken an 8-6 advantage at halftime. Explaining her team’s tactic to compartmentalize matches, Kneece explained, “We like to call it four mini games. We have to go win the first throw-in and win each chukker. We knew we needed to be aggressive and quick. Our goal was to not appeal, keep our heads down and play polo.”
After the break, the two competitors spent the majority of the third chukker in deadlock, though Knox and Kneece both capitalized on scoring opportunities to maintain the gap and end the chukker 9-7 in favor of Aiken. Entering the final stretch, Aiken mustered the strength and willpower to put forward four goals, with scores from each of their players. Brockett converted a penalty in an effort to counter, but it was not enough to overpower the reigning champions. As time expired, Aiken held tight to a 13-8 lead, triumphantly capturing the Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship title for the third consecutive year.
Summer Kneece and Madison Jordan embrace following their victory.
A member of the Aiken collective all three years they have triumphed, Kneece, now in her final year, shared, “It was an amazing way to end my high school interscholastic career. I have made so many amazing memories and friends. I couldn’t have done it without the support system of Aiken Youth Polo.”
“This year, I had switched from playing for the Aiken Youth boys’ team to the girls’ team because I especially wanted to have my last year playing alongside my sister for the national title. Our styles of play complement each other and this is a memory we will have for a lifetime” – Madison Jordan
Coach Tiger Kneece discussed the advice he gave to his team going into the final. “The advice I gave the girls was that they have already done all the work to prepare for being there in the previous five months and that they needed to just go out there and play their game and enjoy the moment.”
The moment was especially sweet for twin sisters Madison and Brianna Jordan, who were able to play and win alongside one another in their final year of interscholastic polo. “Getting to play on a team with my twin sister Brianna was so much fun and made the win very special for me,” Madison Jordan commented. “Throughout my I/I career, I have never played on a team with her, so getting to play with her my senior year was very special. This year, I had switched from playing for the Aiken Youth boys’ team to the girls’ team because I especially wanted to have my last year playing alongside my sister for the national title. Our styles of play complement each other and this is a memory we will have for a lifetime.”
Brianna Jordan, Madison Jordan, Coach Tiger Kneece, Summer Kneece and Alea Crespo celebrate following Aiken’s third consecutive Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship title.
Brianna Jordan added, “It felt very rewarding. Madison and I have put many years of hard work into I/I, starting with Cindy Halle in fourth grade. This was our last game and we knew we wanted to end our high school career with a National Championship together!”
In contrast, this I/I season was the first for arena newcomer Alea Crespo. A mainstay in Aiken, South Carolina, Crespo grew up playing outdoor polo, but never ventured into the arena until now. “I played outdoor polo with Aiken Youth Polo as a young girl, and for my senior year, I went back to my roots and joined some of my closest friends in the arena, and it was an experience I will never forget! Arena is so different from outdoor and a big change I never expected, but after working hard and with a lot of support from my team, I really came to love the arena just as much as they did.”
“Since it’s my senior year, this was my first and last year playing I/I, but I wish I had started so much sooner […] It was such an amazing feeling to be able to share this season with my team and to win a national championship.” – Alea Crespo
2023 Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship All-Stars: Summer Kneece, Madison Jordan (Aiken), Emerson Bruce (Kingswood), Isabelle Brockett (Maryland).
She continued, “Since it’s my senior year, this was my first and last year playing I/I, but I wish I had started so much sooner […] It was such an amazing feeling to be able to share this season with my team and to win a national championship. It was an incredible experience I will cherish for years to come.”
2023 Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship Sportsmanship award recipient Kylie Lieven, presented by Steve Armour.
All stars were awarded to Summer Kneece (Aiken), Isabelle Brockett (Maryland), Emerson Bruce (Kingswood) and Madison Jordan (Aiken). The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Kylie Lieven from Hillside, and the Horsemanship Award went to Aiken’s Summer Kneece. Repeat winner Canela, owned by Patrick MacLeod and the San Antonio Polo Club, trotted away with Best Playing Pony Honors. Aiken also took home the Best Playing String award.
2023 Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship Best Playing Pony Canela. Owned by Patrick MacLeod and the San Antonio Polo Club, pictured with Callin Harrison.
Proud of not only his team, Coach Tiger Kneece beamed, “It was a great honor to win nationals again with Aiken Youth Polo, but it feels even greater when you win it again with your daughter.”
All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.