The 2023 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship made history, as the final match was held as the featured Sunday game on the legendary U.S. Polo Assn. Field One at the National Polo Center in Wellington, Florida. In a thrilling display of skill and teamwork, La Fe Polo Team emerged victorious over Dundas, 12-6.

This was La Fe’s first appearance in the competition, but they had a formidable lineup, led by four-time tournament winner Pamela Flanagan. Flanagan, who assembled the team with the support of La Fe, was joined by Hope Arellano*, Hazel Jackson and Winifred Branscum.

The 2023 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship was a testament to the skill, teamwork, and dedication of the players, and La Fe’s victory was well-deserved. As the tournament continues to advance and grow, we can expect to see more thrilling matches and inspiring stories from the world of women’s polo.

Flanagan takes on Dundas in the final of the U.S. Open Polo Women's Championship.

Flanagan faced Dundas in the final of the U.S. Open Polo Women’s Championship.

Pamela, what does it mean to win this tournament?
Winning this tournament means the world to me! This was a year where I didn’t plan to play in the tournament and my fiancé convinced me to play again. It’s because of him that I decided to play.

Hazel was on board immediately. I always wanted to play with Hope, and she decided she was 100% in. I also knew Winnie from Chicago. She was supposed to play with me in 2020, but the teams changed and unfortunately, she couldn’t come. Having her here and winning with her was special too. I think all the teams were amazing but, in the end, we wanted it more.

What can you say about the game?
It was tough, but we never gave up. The intensity was the same from the first chukker until the last 30 seconds of the match. Even though we had an advantage at the end, Hazel was still yelling at me; that shows the level, consistency, and intensity we had during the entire game.

What were the key moments of the match?
I think that before the game, something very important is that we operated as a team. We had team warm-ups, team coaching, and team dinners. In terms of ability, both teams were equal, but the difference was the organization and team dynamic we had. We were very motivated to win; of course, this is easier said than done.

The preparation was key and, during the final, the preparation we had came into play. We had certain words in moments where we were slacking, for example. The most important term we used was initiate: to initiate every bump, every play, and every attack, and that showed during the game.

Flanagan credits La Fe's dedication to preparation as one of the keys to their success.

Flanagan credits La Fe’s dedication to preparation and team dynamic as one of the keys to their success.

How did you manage to control Nina Clarkin?
I had the pleasure of playing and winning with her; I prefer winning with her. She is a special force and, mounted by Adolfo Cambiaso’s horses, is on a whole different level. Our first objective was to find horses to equal Nina’s to then have the chance to shut her down. Had we not had the horses, we would have had no chance against her. So, the first thing was to match the horsepower. A lot of people doubted, so it felt good to show the horsepower we have.

When it came to the game day, it was interesting as we had three different plans: Plan A, B, and C. It would be either Hazel, Hope, or myself to defend Nina. Before halftime, we had already used the three plans, so at halftime, Coach Julio Arellano told us they had no idea what we were doing and wouldn’t be able to adjust so we decided to stick to one plan. In the end, Hazel marked Nina and I was backing her up in case Nina escaped.

What were the best aspects of your team?
One thing I would like to highlight is the men’s part of the La Fe/Dazos organization. They always treated us the same way as if we were just one. In my experience, I never saw two teams so close together. All the boys were there cheering [for] us, and every one of them gave us at least a couple of horses. It all comes from Louis’ leadership in the end. Not because he asked the guys to do anything, but because it was his passion to support us and to win that make them be there with us.

Hope Arellano and Pamela Flanagan.

Hope Arellano and Pamela Flanagan.

This is your fourth title; is it special to win it with La Fe, your fiancé’s organization?
La Fe is something Louis and Robi Bilbao started and turned into such a beautiful organization. When I came last year, it was Louis who encouraged and inspired me to continue. I was so glad we won last year and was thinking of focusing on my work. Working full-time, I wouldn’t be able to take a month to play polo. Louis and Chris Dawson from Hawaii Polo Life told me I couldn’t stop and knowing I had their support pushed me to do it one more year.

I would also like to mention Robi Bilbao, as he was instrumental to us. Not only did he organize everything, including the horses, but he is also the Manager of the La Fe and Dazos men’s teams. He did this while playing both the 16 goal and 22 goal and that’s something remarkable.

2023 is very special for me. In the past, we always had Adolfo Cambiaso’s support. His coaching, his organization, and his horses. To play this tournament without him and Mia was a scary thought because I respect them so much. They always helped me so much that it felt intimidating to face this without them. Being able to go out and win was more meaningful because it made me believe more in myself, and that I can build a team and inspire other players to win.

What can you say about this year’s Open?
The tournament keeps advancing every year. In 2019, when I won it for the first time, it was the first time the match took place on NPC’s U.S. Polo Assn. Field One, but it was on a Saturday. Last year was the first time we had prize money, and this 2023 U.S. Open was historical because it was the first time the final took place as the featured match on Sunday at NPC’s U.S. Polo Assn. Field One. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this.

Flanagan and her fiancé Louis Devaleix embrace following her historic victory on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One at NPC.

Flanagan and her fiancé Louis Devaleix embrace following her historic victory on U.S. Polo Assn. Field One at NPC.

Speaking about the prize, what can you say about that and the sponsors?
The sponsors were amazing. Eastern Hay was hugely instrumental in making this happen. They sponsored my team and they also provided both La Fe and Dazos hay for the whole season. Eastern Hay also offered $40,000 in prizes for the women’s tournament.

Hawaii Polo Life has been with me for five years already and we have them on put jerseys as well. In all five years, I played with and without Mia, Nina, Hazel and Hope. The one thing that was always part of my journey is Chris Dawson and Hawaii Polo Life. This year, Chris supported both La Fe and Dundas.

How does your year continue?
I’m getting married in June and want to start a family. I realize, God willing I can start the process and in the event I’m pregnant, I won’t be able to play. However, I think my biggest contribution is the organization we built and the team spirit and intensity we had. I think I can still do that from outside the field. Putting a team [in] next year? I won’t say that’s not a possibility!

*Hope Arellano is an Active Team USPA Member. 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 ©David Lominska.

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