From March 15-19, seven teams descended upon Brookshire Polo Club (Brookshire, Texas) for the 2023 edition of the Open National Interscholastic Championship (ONIS). Representing the apex of youth arena play and talent across the country, the week built up to an electrifying final on Sunday, March 19. Defending champions Houston (Lily Lequerica, Joe Bob Lequerica, Will Mudra, alt. Judah Altic, alt. Tomas Tejera, alt. Asa Gangee) met California natives Lakeside (Faris Hanna, Oliver Wheatley, Elise Pardue, Allie Bushong). Accelerating from the first throw in and never looking back, Houston’s high-powered offense proved unstoppable, guiding the hometown team to their second consecutive Open National Interscholastic Championship title in a commanding 21-6 victory.
Houston’s Will Mudra hits a powerful neckshot with Lakeside’s Elise Pardue at his hip.
A favorite going into the competition, Houston’s number one seed placement provided a bye directly to the semifinals. An impressive performance and clear display of talent, Houston defeated South Bay 17-2 to advance to the title match.
Lakeside’s path to the final was a bit more strenuous. First, they defeated Lancaster-Work to Ride 13-10 in the quarterfinals. Meeting Yale in the semifinals, the Californian team bested the Northeastern Regional winners by just one goal, 11-10, to advance to the ONIS final.
Speaking to their team’s preparation for the ONIS, Joe Bob Lequerica shared, “We prepared by starting practices around January 15. At first, we started by just doing drills. Then we had great practices against the Texas A&M boys and women and practiced against our assistant coach, Shane Rice. Two weeks before nationals, we practiced three times a week.” Joe Bob’s older sister Lily Lequerica added, “We did many ‘chalk talks’ before games to look at our mistakes from the prior practices or games.”
Houston’s Lily Lequerica drives to the goal with Lakeside’s Oliver Wheatley moving in on defense.
As Houston prepared for the final against Lakeside, Joe Bob Lequerica discussed their opponent’s strengths. “We looked out for their backshots, and we had to make sure we never let up even in the fourth chukker because we saw them come back from down a lot in both their other games.”
At the outset of play, Houston pounced on the ball, finding the goal a remarkable eight times in the first chukker with contributions from all three starting players (Lily Lequerica, Joe Bob Lequerica, Mudra). Two penalty conversations from Pardue put Lakeside on the board to end the chukker with Houston firmly ahead 8-2.
Even with an early lead, Houston knew they needed to keep momentum working in their favor. Mudra remarked, “The biggest thing that I believe helped us was, give 100% at all times and don’t lay off the gas.” Keeping this tactic in mind, Lily Lequerica kept Houston on the offensive, scoring three times in the second chukker. Pardue found the goal once to end the half with Houston in the lead 11-3.
Houston’s Lily Lequerica with a beautiful backshot to goal past Lakeside’s Elise Pardue.
“My role on the team was to work. I know that both my brother and Will are stronger than me, so my job was to make them look good, be solid with my passes, tough with a man and strong with my backshots.” – Lily Lequerica
Explaining her selfless role on the team, Lily Lequerica commented, “My role on the team was to work. I know that both my brother and Will are stronger than me, so my job was to make them look good, be solid with my passes, tough with a man and strong with my backshots.”
After the break, Houston picked up right where they left off. Three goals from Mudra and one from Joe Bob Lequerica were countered by a field goal and penalty conversion from Pardue in the third chukker. As the final chukker began, Houston held a comfortable 16-5 advantage.
Houston’s Joe Bob Lequerica with a nearside neckshot down the arena.
“Something that I think sets us apart from the rest of the teams is our amazing chemistry and camaraderie. Will, Joe Bob and I all grew up together playing polo and being friends. And it shows in the polo arena.” – Lily Lequerica
Praising her team’s chemistry and ability to understand one another, Lily Lequerica noted, “Something that I think sets us apart from the rest of the teams is our amazing chemistry and camaraderie. Will, Joe Bob and I all grew up together playing polo and being friends. And it shows in the polo arena. We weren’t scared to talk to one another about a play we think we should have done differently, and we weren’t offended or put down by a teammate’s critiques.”
With just one chukker left, Mudra scored three more times for good measure (including a two pointer) and Lily Lequerica added a goal to the tally as well. The only member of her team to score, Pardue made one final shot for her sixth score of the day, but it was not enough to keep pace with the indomitable Houston collective. As the final horn sounded, Houston emerged victorious with the 21-6 win and their second consecutive Open National Interscholastic Championship title.
Assistant Coach Shane Rice, Will Mudra, Lily Lequerica, Coach Mark Prinsloo, Joe Bob Lequerica, Judah Altic and Tomas Tejera celebrate Houston’s second consecutive Open National Interscholastic title.
A family win for the Lequericas, Joe Bob described the feeling of triumphing alongside his sister. “It’s awesome to play with my sister because she always has my back and is an amazing team player. Winning the national championship with her meant so much to me.”
“For my last year with Houston, I got to be captain and help guide all my teammates while also learning myself what to do and what not to do. It was such a great experience and if I could do it 1,000 more times, I would.” – Will Mudra
Mudra, who was also a member of the 2022 winning Houston team, shared, “It was incredible to win two years in a row. It means so much to win with my longtime friends Lily and Joe Bob Lequerica in my senior year. We first met in 2010 when we moved to Houston. We started playing polo together in junior polo in 2011. Then Coach Mark Prinsloo started his Rice Krispie Cup in the arena each year. And this year, the three of us were able to play together as a team.”
His final year playing I/I, Mudra continued, “For my last year with Houston, I got to be captain and help guide all my teammates while also learning myself what to do and what not to do. It was such a great experience and if I could do it 1,000 more times, I would.”
2023 Open National Interscholastic Championship All-Stars: Daniel Arnold (Tinicum), Mosiah Gravesande (Lancaster-WTR), Will Mudra (Houston), Elise Pardue (Lakeside).
Houston Coach Mark Prinsloo detailed all of the hard work the team put into preparing, especially since the team typically plays more outdoor polo. “We didn’t get too much time to prepare in the arena. Our kids play mainly outdoor polo. We pretty much start in the middle of January. We start with a lot of situational drills, what to do when the ball is in the right-hand corner, how to defend wall drills, alignments on penalty shots, how to stop teams from doing certain things. I think the big arena helps our team a lot as well, because it’s almost like playing in an outdoor field. The arena is so big in Brookshire, so it [helps] the team a little. It’s bigger, we keep the game open. We always have someone in the back, there’s no [easy] goals for the other team.”
All-stars were awarded to Daniel Arnold (Tinicum), Mosiah Gravesande (Lancaster-Work to Ride), Will Mudra (Houston) and Elise Pardue (Lakeside). The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Lancaster-Work to Ride’s Mosiah Gravesande, and the Horsemanship Award was presented to Houston’s Will Mudra. Houston’s Ruby, owned by the Mudra family, galloped away with Best Playing Pony honors. Best Playing String honors went to Houston Polo Club, which was comprised of ponies from the Lequerica and Mudra families.
2023 Open National Interscholastic Championship Sportsmanship award recipient Mosiah Gravesande, presented by USPA Governor-at-Large Cindy Halle.
Appreciative of the horses he was able to play, specifically Ruby, Mudra remarked, “I’m so lucky that my dad gave me such nice horses to play. Ruby is an absolute machine. She has so much heart and won’t quit. She does everything I ask her to do and is always ready to go 100%.”
“What an awesome experience it was to have had our Lakeside team make it to the finals for the first time ever this year. We are so proud of all of these amazing youth players and the future of polo is definitely bright.” – Nicole Bankhead
Proud of her team making it to the national championship final, Lakeside Coach Nicole Bankhead shared, “We went to our first nationals seven years ago at Brookshire and decided that we would start a youth program at Lakeside. We could only dream that in such a short time, we would have the opportunity to represent the West Coast multiple times at nationals. What an awesome experience it was to have had our Lakeside team make it to the finals for the first time ever this year. We are so proud of all of these amazing youth players and the future of polo is definitely bright. Huge thank you to the USPA and the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic team that work tirelessly in support of youth polo!”
2023 Open National Interscholastic Championship Best Playing Pony Ruby, owned by the Mudra family, pictured with Pam, Will and Billy Mudra.
Speaking to the advice he gave his team, Houston Coach Mark Prinsloo shared, “You can’t just show up and think you won already. So that was the biggest thing, keeping them focused and hungry and they showed they were focused and hungry. So, it all worked out.”
All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.