Women Polo Players Thriving At Grand Champions Polo Club

Whether it’s the Polo School Ladies League weekly games or mixed league tournaments, women playing polo is at an all-time high at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

The fastest growing sector in the United States, women polo players have increased in numbers at the nation’s largest club.

The Polo School Ladies League, now in its seventh year and co-founded by Grand Champions President and avid player Melissa Ganzi and Alina Carta, features women of all ages and ability levels and serves as a stepping stone to major tournaments such as the WCT Finals at Grand Champions, Women’s U.S. Open which gets under way on Friday at Port Mayaca Polo Club, and Women’s Argentine Open.

Hope Arellano, Mia Cambiaso, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Pamela Flanagan, Sophia Doble, Heather Souto, Alecia Seidler, Meredith Lovegrove and others are competing at Santa Rita Polo Farm and Grand Champions this season. Ganzi, co-founder of the 26-goal World Polo League, is the only woman currently competing in the WPL.

The league plays every Wednesday at Santa Rita and has monthly tournaments. At the February tournament, two games featuring 16 players, were held.

In the opening game, Stage Hill (Gloria D’Angelo, 2, Avery Evans, 2, Alyson Poor, 4, Jenna Davis, 3) defeated Dream Ride (Malicia Van Falkenhausen, Sophia Doble, Jofi Gianico, Heather Souto), 5-3.

Heather Souto was MVP and Gianico’s third chukker horse Griselda was Best Playing Pony.

“Alina does a nice job of always trying to make equal teams,” said Souto, who started playing polo as a teenager. “The competition was great and everyone was well-mounted.

“Every year women’s polo gets stronger and stronger,” Souto said. “I really think the opportunity that Alina and Grand Champions is giving the females of the sport in Wellington is a great opportunity. The price is really reasonable and the facility is super nice. It’s very well-run and one of the most respectable programs for women’s polo.”

Souto, who is currently competing in the U.S. Open last year, is impressed with women’s growth in polo.

“It’s grown, there’s so much polo,” Souto said. “There was maybe two or three tournaments that you knew of. There were always the big guns and then us little fish trying to catch up to them.”

Souto manages Farmington Polo Club in Connecticut. Her team, Dream Ride, is named after a fundraising event of the Hometown Foundation, Inc., a year-long community commitment to celebrate the achievement of Dream Riders, Special Olympics athletes and individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities from over 25 different states and three countries. During the weekend-long event, Farmington welcomes thousands of motorcyclists, automotive enthusiasts and guests from across the world, who come together to support the Foundation.

In the second game, Outlaw (Samantha Shinn, 0, Ava Rose Hinkson, 2, Rachael Spencer, 0, Isabella Wolf, 5) defeated Seahorse (Maggie Hill, 0, Ana DeLaFuente, 2, Ava Nunez, 1, Marisa Bianchi, 4), 5-1.

Isabella Wolf, who started playing polo at age 9, was MVP. Hinkson’s fourth chukker horse Escoba was Best Playing Pony.

“I’m super happy, it’s always nice getting MVP,” Wolf said. “I feel MVP sometimes is more of a reflection of being able to jive with your teammates and make the most of that connection.

“I have good friends that gave me good horses and that always helps a ton. I’ve been playing a lot with Samantha Shinn and we’ve been trying to feed off each other’s energy on the field and it paid off in the game. Today was a nice clean game even though we were going hard.

“I really like being part of a team, that’s what really drew me to polo. The league is great. We need as much women’s polo as possible in Wellington. To have something consistent that happens every Wednesday is really helpful for the sport.”

The league attracted 20 players during the month of February.

“It was really fun,” Carta said. “The girls are playing wonderfully. It was super competitive. We have people signed up for March and will be playing until the second week of April.”

The Polo School Ladies League is the only full-time weekly women’s polo league in the world.

“It provides a place for them to really have fun, work on their game and play competitively,” said Carta.

“The league began with the idea of growing women’s polo and creating an atmosphere in Wellington that brings all the ladies together to improve our game, work on our ponies and most of all enjoy the game that we all love so much.”

All team entry fees benefit The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned club located at the former Pony Express facility.

Ganzi also established SunnyShip scholarship opportunities, now in its fifth year, to honor the legacy of Hall of Famer Sunny Hale, the greatest women’s polo player and visionary of all time who laid the foundation for women’s polo and today’s popularity. SunnyShip recipients include 9-goaler Hope Arellano, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, Alyson Poor and Ava Rose Hinkson.

Grand Champions, the nation’s largest  polo club celebrating its 16th anniversary, and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-acre polo facility in Wellington with 212 stalls in nine self-contained barns, two tracks, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and four polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and short work arena. The club has 13 well-manicured fields including nine world-class fields at GCPC and four at Santa Rita.

During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation’s largest and most innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, nestled in the heart of the world’s winter equestrian capital, is hosting  tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 26-goal leagues, WCT Finals, Polo School Ladies League weekly play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions and Santa Rita.

Season highlights for 2023 are the Sieber Memorial, currently underway; $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament,  John T. Oxley Memorial, WCT Finals and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and special events including World Polo League Polo Pride, Sunset Chukkers & Cocktails and Great Futures Polo Day featuring Celebrity Polo.

The biggest highlight of the season is the fifth season of the World Polo League currently underway with the Founders Cup. The nation’s only 26-goal league features some of the world’s top players including 10-goaler Pablo MacDonough and team sponsors.

The winter season is being live-streamed locally and worldwide on Wellington-based ChukkerTV (CTV Sports).

Grand Champions Polo Club caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program.

The Polo School, now located at the former Pony Express facility, operates in Wellington January through May and September through November. The stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. November. The Polo School has nurtured several junior, men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.

For more information on leagues or Polo School contact Director of Operations Juan Bollini at  561-346-1099 or General Manager Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.



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