Following a week of severely cold temperatures, the moment arrived for two elite teams travelling from the USA to face-off against Great Britain. Hosted by the All England Polo Club at the Hickstead Show grounds in Sussex, England, on Saturday, January 21, clear skies and bright sunshine set the stage for the four teams to battle for the prestigious Intercollegiate Challenge Cup and Bryan Morrison Trophy titles.
The first match of anticipated international competition kicked-off between Schools and Universities Polo Association (SUPA) Britain (Jamie Baille, Frank Barlow, Tom Gordon-Colebrook) and the USPA’s Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) Program (Lea Jih-Vieira, Vlad Tarashansky, Joe Coors, Stefanie Lueders).
SUPA’s Frank Barlow reaches for the hook on USA’s Joe Coors. ©The Art of Polo
Using the home venue to their advantage, a relentless barrage of successful drives gave SUPA an early 7-1 edge by the end of the first chukker. Adding to their commanding start, goals from SUPA’s Gordan-Colebrook and Barlow in the second chukker left USA trailing by nine. Beginning an uphill battle to pull USA back into contention, I/I captain Coors kept the match alive, drawing a Penalty 1 to ignite a comeback despite still trailing 4-10 at the half.
“We just came out asleep. We had a good halftime talk and played hard.” – Vlad Tarashansky
“The biggest thing in the first half is [that] we were letting our men go—it was a little too open and we weren’t getting those second shots,” shared Jih-Vieira. She continued, “Once we brought it together and we played more man-to-man, it came together a lot better. We did a little more working the ball before [sending] it.” Tarashansky added, “We just came out asleep. We had a good halftime talk and played hard.”
SUPA’s Frank Barlow backs the ball with USA’s Stefanie Leaders at his hip. ©Images of Polo
Regrouping in the tent, I/I opened the scoring with Coors hitting a two-pointer! Following a response from SUPA’s Gordon-Colebrook, USA went back on the attack with Tarashansky pouncing on the ball to narrow SUPA’s lead to four. In the fourth and final chukker of play, I/I’s Tarashansky and Coors once again set the pace to tie the match 11-all with just one minute on the clock. Seizing a chance to take the lead for the first time, Coors hit the goal mouth as I/I’s defense stood strong in the remaining seconds of regulation to secure a phenomenal comeback victory 12-11.
USA’s Joe Coors drives to goal alongside SUPA’s Frank Barlow. ©Images of Polo
For his efforts on both sides of the ball and leadership in I/I’s second half rebound, Joe Coors was named Most Valuable Player. In identifying what helped turn the game around for the red, white and blue, Coors noted, “We just got more focused, looked at our men and [got] more organiz[ed].” Incredibly proud of her team, Jih-Vieira enthusiastically added, “We were able to bring it back in the last couple of minutes, that was really rewarding because it’s tough to keep your mental game in it when it’s that close… [this] was a once in a lifetime experience to play fast, competitive polo with both new and old friends. It was amazing to work with such a talented team to adapt to a different style of polo and ultimately bring home the win.”
USA’s Lea Jih-Vieira. ©Alice Gipps
“We were able to bring it back in the last couple of minutes, that was really rewarding because it’s tough to keep your mental game in it when it’s that close.” – Lea Jih-Vieira
In the featured match showcasing the best in international arena polo, England (Matias Amaya, Jack Hyde, Max Charlton) and USA (Patrick Uretz*, Felipe Viana*, Tommy Biddle) lined up for the national anthems. The ceremony was followed by a minute of silence for Kudlip “Collin” Dhillon, a former Chairman of the Cirencester Park Polo Club and Steward of the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA). “I played my first two seasons in the UK with ‘Collins’ (Kuldip) team,” USA’s Biddle shared. “So, it’s very poignant and special to be here remembering the impact he had on so much of the polo world.”
Viana detailed the team’s structure going into the match. “It was very clear the way we were going to play. Tommy and I have experience together in ‘Gladiator Polo’ where we had a lot of success. He is incredibly experienced as a back, launches the ball forward and reads the game well. I was in the middle, trying to control play and win the center of the game. Patrick played up front. He’s very skilled with the ball and he’s a natural goal scorer. I’ve played quite a lot with Patrick as well. We played in the Federation of International Polo World Polo Championship in Chile in 2015 and traveled together to Australia as well for the training before the 2017 FIP World Polo Championship.”
Spectators line the arena at the All England Polo Club in Hickstead, England for the international arena competitions. ©Alice Gipps
Mounted by the Ormerod family at Druids Lodge Polo Club and La Mariposa Polo’s Mariano Darritchon, USA drew first blood off a deflected penalty shot from Biddle. A quick response from England’s Amaya set the stage for a physical first chukker with each team matching the other stride-for-stride. Entering the second chukker trailing by two, efforts from Viana and a shot from inside USA’s half to drop dead center into the England goal by 9-goaler Biddle spurred USA’s offensive efforts. Connecting only slightly with the ball, England’s Charlton turned his defense into an attack with a solo effort down the boards in front of a full crowd leading England into the break with a 9-7 lead.
USA’s Tommy Biddle on a breakaway. ©The Art of Polo
“It’s always an honor to represent your country in those kinds of events. I really enjoy playing in it. As long as I can keep playing at a high level in the arena, and people still want me to do it, I’ll keep doing it.” – Tommy Biddle
Emerging with a renewed fire, two quick back-to-back goals from Viana tied the match 9-all. Responding for England, Amaya, a first-time participant in the Bryan Morrison made his presence known on a penalty conversion and a running goal to end the third providing England with a one-goal advantage.
Recalling the climax of the game, Biddle commented, “We were in that third chukker within one point, so we were doing very well. But unfortunately, when you have these situations where we come over and we are playing on borrowed horses and they’re playing on their own horses, it makes a little bit of a difference in the end when it’s crunch time.”
Maintaining his hot streak, Amaya scored early for England in the fourth, as a young Hyde worked tirelessly in the middle to keep Viana contained. Putting his arena knowledge to use, 10-goaler Charlton utilized the boards to maintain possession for England. With his team holding onto a 15-13 lead, the final horse change allowed Amaya to convert a penalty and extend England’s lead. Answering for USA, Biddle continued to drive attacks through the middle, including launching a powerful shot from distance, but tight defense from England and a brilliant late push from Hyde ultimately secured the victory for England 19-13.
USA’s Felipe Viana makes the hook on England’s Jack Hyde. ©Alice Gipps
Still pleased with his team’s performance in spite of the loss, Viana noted, “I think we did well. We put up a very strong challenge. We were down by two goals with three minutes left in the game. Up until then, we had been very even. We lost control towards the end and they scored some two pointers. It was upsetting because I felt that even though there were a lot of aspects in regards to being a visiting team, we were still there and we had the chance to win … hopefully next time we beat England.”
Praising the status of polo in the U.K., Uretz commented, “My main takeaway from this experience is probably their level of arena polo and the seriousness with which they take it—the horses, the footing, the level of professionalism with everything. It’s cool to see a place where they have professional arena polo. They really respect it as a big-time sport out there, which I hope we can bring to the U.S.”
In his spectacular international debut, Matias Amaya was named Most Valuable Player. Pixies, a 13-year-old Australian mare played and owned by Max Charlton was awarded Best Playing Pony.
USA’s Felipe Viana works the boards with England’s Jack Hyde on defense. ©The Art of Polo
Grateful for the experience to travel to England for the prestigious match, Biddle shared, “It’s always an honor to represent your country in those kinds of events. I really enjoy playing in it. As long as I can keep playing at a high level in the arena, and people still want me to do it, I’ll keep doing it.”
“The last time I competed in this tournament was with Tommy and Will Tankard, and we were able to win! It was really cool to go back to the same arena and see that again. Will was a close friend and he’s missed. It was nice to reconnect with Tommy and think about those memories. I know Felipe was a close friend of Will’s as well. To be able to have that experience again and that moment as a group was special.” – Patrick Uretz
Commending his teammates, Uretz added, “Playing with a former 10-goaler and a player of Tommy’s caliber is always a great learning experience. And then being able to be on the same team with Felipe again was just a great opportunity to travel together. We’ve played on FIP teams and in professional outdoor leagues as well, and so just to be able to travel around and hang out with those guys was great. Will Walton was a great alternate, he supported the team well, and helped us with whatever we needed. I would definitely love to go out there again.”
2023 Bryan Morrison Trophy Runners-Up: USA – Patrick Uretz, Felipe Viana, Tommy Biddle, presented by John Bump, Chairman of Hickstead and Huw Lewis from Inspired Entertainment Inc. @Alice Gipps
“The last time I competed in this tournament was with Tommy and Will Tankard, and we were able to win! It was really cool to go back to the same arena and see that again,” Uretz recalled. “Will was a close friend and he’s missed. It was nice to reconnect with Tommy and think about those memories. I know Felipe was a close friend of Will’s as well. To be able to have that experience again and that moment as a group was special.”
*Patrick Uretz and Felipe Viana are Team USPA alumni. 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.