On Sunday, October 8, two military titans battled it out for the coveted National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup (NACICC). Hosted by Army Polo Club, semifinal games were played at Army Polo Club at Chetwood Park in The Plains, Virginia, with the final played at Twilight Polo Club (Middleburg, Virginia). Two-time champion Army (Captain Patrick Shanahan, Lieutenant Colonel Amos Peterson, Cadet Grace Beck) returned to reclaim the title and faced off against defending champion Navy (Lieutenant Commander Sang Yi, Lieutenant Michael Muldoon, Petty Officer Second Class Alex Jenkins) in a rematch of last year’s final contest. After a physical four-chukker match, Army edged out the competition in the third to steal the lead and defeat Navy 9-8.

Army's Grace Beck turns to defend Navy's Alex Jenkins thundering down the arena.

Army’s Grace Beck hustles to defend Navy’s Alex Jenkins.

Established in 2017 by the USPA Board of Governors and the USPA Armed Forces Committee, the NACICC honors active military personnel and recognizes polo’s rich history in the military. Uniting service members for the first ever “Military Polo Week,” the inaugural “battle in the saddle” featured a military polo extravaganza which included a free polo clinic for military personnel, a U.S. Army Military District of Washington Reception at Twilight Polo Club (Middleburg, Virginia) and a black-tie dinner at Chantilly National Golf & Country Club to conclude the week’s festivities. Vice President of Marketing and Media at USPA Global Licensing, Ms. Shannon Stilson, was in attendance as the U.S. Polo Assn. served as the title sponsor for this year’s event. In addition to the NACICC, the weeklong celebration also included the Churchill-Roosevelt Cup welcoming international competitors from the United Kingdom, the international event is a salute to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Theodore Roosevelt, both famous leaders who served in their respective military and were also avid polo players.

Navy's Michael Muldoon works the boards with Army's Patrick Shanahan on his heels.

Navy’s Michael Muldoon works the boards with Army’s Patrick Shanahan on his heels.

“Last year Navy beat the Army in a very close match that was decided in the final chukker, so I wanted to get the trophy back to the Army. It’s always a great tournament and it’s competitive but also collegial as we are all Service Members.”  – Army’s Lieutenant Colonel Amos Peterson

Amos Peterson contributed two goals in Army's victory.

Amos Peterson contributed two goals in Army’s victory.

Semifinals on Saturday, October 7, pitted last year’s victor, Navy against Air Force, where Navy dominated the scoreboard to secure their position in the final with an impressive 17-8 win. Army battled the Marines in a closer contest, Army emerging on top, 10-8.

Army, who has captured two NACICC titles, first in 2018 and again in 2021, returned to the arena hoping to capture their third win. “For the final, we really tried to carefully assign who would mark whom,” explained Shanahan. “Amos Peterson, being so experienced with these players and ponies did a great job leading us through that.”

Army's Grace Beck leads the pack on a breakaway.

Army’s Grace Beck leads the pack on a breakaway.

Navy took the lead early in the first chukker, with Jenkins and Muldoon scoring the team’s first few goals. Army’s Peterson was able to squeeze one in before the end of the first to put Army on the scoreboard. Army picked up the pace in the second with all three players picking up points. Navy was quick on their heels and put in two more of their own, one by Muldoon off a Penalty 3 and one by Jenkins. Shanahan answered with another goal, this time off a penalty shot from centerfield to close the goal gap to one. Navy led 6-5 at the end of the first half.

Resuming play, Beck hit her stride and gained two goals off penalties. Shutting out Navy for the first time, Beck helped Army steal the 7-6 lead by the end of the third. Shanahan commended Beck’s penalty conversions and recognized the scoring streak as a pivotal moment in the final, saying “She has an incredibly disciplined method and scored every penalty she took.”

Navy's Alex Jenkins prepares for a booming backshot.

Navy’s Alex Jenkins prepares for a booming backshot.

“Alex Jenkins was the star player for the Navy team and our focus was to not let him beat us. We felt that if we could limit his touches and not give him freedom with the ball, we could control the tempo of the match. Overall, I would say we had a great defensive effort and took advantage of the scoring opportunities that were created.”  – Army’s Lieutenant Colonel Amos Peterson

The fourth and final chukker witnessed Shanahan score two more goals for Army, rounding out their final goal count to nine. Jenkins attempted to stage a comeback with back-to-back goals for Navy, but it was not enough to overtake Army’s lead. After a rough and tumble battle, Army emerged the victor 9-8.

Most Valuable Player was awarded to Cadet Grace Beck, who was thrilled to bring the title back home for Army. “Bringing this win for the Army team truly meant a lot to me and my teammates. This win also meant a lot to tournament organizer and Armed Forces Committee Chair [Major Ret.] Mark Gillespie—he would always tell me that he wanted this win.” The Sergeant Reckless Award Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Andy, a 10-year-old Mexican gelding played by Beck in the fourth chukker, owned by Doug Barnes. Barnes generously supplied all the horses used in Sunday’s final. The Sergeant Reckless Award honors the horse of the same name who served in the Korean War and carried ammunition to the front lines for the Marines who were under constant fire.

Most Valuable Player Grace Beck.

Most Valuable Player Grace Beck.

“It was a terrific weekend and I’m super proud of the Army polo team—we played really well together even though this was our first time playing as a group,” recalled Peterson. “We all came from Intercollegiate/Interscholastic backgrounds. I played for Washington State University [Pullman, Washington], Pat Shanahan played for Culver Academy [Culver, Indiana] and Grace Beck currently plays for the University of Kentucky [Lexington, Kentucky] while she is a Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet, so that helped with being comfortable with riding new and unfamiliar ponies and using split strings.”

Spectators taking in the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup action in Northern Virginia's inaugural Military Polo Week.

Spectators taking in the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup action in Northern Virginia’s inaugural Military Polo Week.

The team celebrated their win on Sunday evening at the formal awards dinner alongside the UK Armed Forces Polo members. “We will savor the win until the next NACICC tournament and hopefully continue to encourage more Service Members to learn how to play polo so we can build our polo bench,” recounted Peterson. “It’s an awesome sport and I would like to see more people try it!”

All photos courtesy of ©Tony Gibson.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.