WELLINGTON, FL-April 5, 2013 – Women’s polo took another huge step Thursday on the opening day of the eighth annual Women’s Championship Tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Six highly-skilled teams competed in two 0-2 goal games and one 3-6 goal game in front of a large crowd.
Defending champion Goose Creek, led by Maureen Brennan, Alina Carta, Kristy Waters Outhier and Tiffany Busch, played Prima in the first four chukkers of an eight-chukker competition and took a commanding 9-3 lead.
After Prima jumped to a 3-2 lead in the opening chukker, Goose Creek shut out Prima in the last three chukkers. Busch led with four goals, Waters Outhier had three and Carta scored two.
While the score may be lopsided, Prima was just as skillful with Cecelia Cochran, Rachel Turner and Lia Salvo, who each scored a goal, and Karen Reese.
The 9-3 score will be carried over into Saturday’s 12 noon championship final between the two teams.
Brennan, a veteran player, will have her work cut out for her on Saturday. She will also compete in the 0-2 goal final for Coast to Coast.
Coast to Coast, led by Angela York, Madelyn Cobb, Jocelyn Groulx and Brennan, defeated Escue Pink, 6-5. Coast to Coast will meet Morgan Stanley, 9-2 winners over Team Cloud 9 in Saturday’s 0-2 goal final at 10 a.m.
|Escue losing to Coast to Coast.
In Saturday’s opening game, Escue Pink and Team Cloud 9 in the 0-2 consolation game at 9 a.m.
At 11 a.m., the inaugural WCT Junior Invitational will add another page to women’s polo history. WCT founder and top pro Sunny Hale will coach The Titaniums with Allie Azzaro, Riley Ganzi, Jaqui Casey and Tess Pimsner.
Hale decided not to play in the tournament this year to focus on the junior girls, the future of women’s polo.
Coca-Cola team captain Gillian Johnston, in the midst of playing in the U.S. Open, will coach The Diamonds featuring Olivia Merlos, Malia Bryan, Hope Arellano and Mia Cambiaso.
Escue Pink, led by the mother-daughter team of Kelly and Marissa Wells, nearly came from behind to knock off Coast to Coast. Madelyn Cobb scored three of her game-high goals in the final two chukkers to stall the rally.
The Wells family were last-minute additions after hearing about the tournament. Vacationing from Maryland, the Wells had their polo equipment including mallets, fed-exed to them a day before the tournament.
The 0-2 goal games were the most impressive, displaying high skill level and teamwork on fast ponies.
|Team Cloud 9 loses to team Morgan Stanley.
Canadian Laura Wilson, 25, of Team Cloud 9 played well despite her team’s loss. She is competing in her fourth WCT season. She has been playing polo for eight years, stopping only to heal a few broken bones and give birth to her first daughter.
“I try to play in all the WCT tournaments because it’s really good ladies polo,” Wilson said. “This is by far my favorite tournament. The skill level is definitely going up and it is awesome. I think the ladies are setting a higher standard for themselves and these kind of tournaments really allow us to get out there and play as professionals. We’re not with some Argentine guy telling us to go up there and leave the ball. We all get on the team and we all have to play.
“I was hoping the score would be closer,” Wilson said. “I know our players don’t have as much polo playing experience this year as the other team did. I think they just outplayed us.”
Wilson, in the midst of re-locating to Wellington, has big plans for her 2-year-old daughter, Sienna. “I can’t wait until it’s my little 11-foot giraffe up there holding her jersey for the juniors tournament,” she said.
The future of women’s polo looks bright with teenagers Jessica Riemann, 16, and Katie Mitcham, 17, of Morgan Stanley, who dominated the game. Riemann led with four goals and Mitcham scored on a penalty shot and played well defensively.
Riemann, a former show jumper, has been playing polo for six years. Her team qualified for the WCT at The Villages in September.
“This tournament is awesome,” said Riemann, a sophomore. “I love women’s tournaments. It’s a different game than the men’s. It’s a lot more strategic.”
“I think we are pretty strong,” said Mitcham, 17, who has also been playing for six years. “I am glad the WCT is here for women. It’s very competitive. I just want to be the best I can be for the rest of my life.”
In last year’s 3-6 goal final, Hale and her Goose Creek team won last year’s 3-6 goal championship title with a 5-3 victory over Prima. Hale was named MVP after scoring five goals. Hale was joined by Julia Smith, Clarissa Echezaretta and Brennan on the winning team.
“I thought today was excellent,” Hale said. “I thought our 0-2 goal games were really good, competitive games. The 3-6 goal game was really good polo and fun to watch. The skill level has improved because there are more tournaments around the country where they get to play against or with each other. The competitiveness is getting better.”
After Thursday’s opening play-off matches, a WCT tailgate was held for the players during the 2 p.m. U.S. Open game featuring Audi and Valiente which Valiente won, 12-9.
Grand Champions’ Marc and Melissa Ganzi, hosts of the event, treated fans and players to Cilantro’s pastries and refreshments from Cilantro’s along with announce Gus Whitelaw.
On Saturday, the 0-2 goal consolation will be held at 9 a.m. followed by the 0-2 goal final at 10 a.m.; Junior WCT Invitational at 11 a.m. and 3-6 goal final at 12 noon.
Former 8-goaler Dale Smicklas, the honorary Commissioner of the WCT, will be at Saturday’s final. Smicklas played for Michelob, Black Bears and several other teams around the world before retiring. He is an avid supporter of women’s polo and the WCT since its inception in 2005.
|Winning team Goose Creek, Tiffany Busch, Alina Carta, Maureen Brennan and Kristy Waters Outhier. They will play the 3-6 goal final on Saturday and are defending champions. Photo Credit Alex Pacheco
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: On the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro teams Audi and Piaget. Everyone is welcome to watch polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.