By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 3, 2018---Women's polo will take center stage this week at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final begins Wednesday and will feature Open, 16-goal and 8-goal levels of play.
After a year's hiatus, the WCT Final has attracted 28 women including some of the world's top players: 10-goaler Nina Vestey Clarkin, captain of the England Ladies' Polo Team; Sarah Wiseman, another top British player; Clarissa Echezarreta of Argentina; American Tiffany Busch; and 2017 Argentine Open Women's Championship winner Mia Cambiaso.
The Open division will begin play Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. with a round robin between San Saba, Chateau D'esclans and CrossFit El Cid. The continuous round robin resumes on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The top two finishers advance into Sunday's final at 12:30 p.m.
The Open team rosters are:
Chateau D'esclans: Riley Ganzi, Mia Cambiaso, Mia Novillo Astrada, Nina Vestey Clarkin.
CrossFit El Cid: Paige Boone, Cecelia Cochran, Sarah Wiseman, Tiffany Busch.
San Saba: Dawn Jones, Clarissa Echezarreta, Alyson Poor, Clara Cassino).
The 16-Goal division play begins Thursday with one game at 11:15 a.m. between Hawaii Polo Life And G-String/Amista Polo. The teams will meet in Sunday's final at 11:15 a.m.
The 16-goal team rosters are:
G-String/Amista Polo: Hope Arellano, Gillian Johnston, Malia Bryan, TBA.
Hawaii Polo Life: Olivia Uetztrich, Pamela Flanagan, Mia Cambiaso, Courtney Asdourain.
The 8-goal level also begins play on Thursday at 10 a.m. Grand Champions and Catena will compete and meet again in Sunday's final at 10 a.m.
The 8-goal rosters are:
Catena: Slaney O'Hanlon, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, Catherine Roze, Olivia Uetztrich.
The tournament is named in honor of legendary Hall of Famer Sunset "Sunny" Hale. The WCT is the only women's polo event of its kind. The largest polo league in the world has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. The WCT Final, adult and junior qualifiers have U.S. and international players with more than 20 qualifiers in the U.S. alone.
Hale, the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Outback and part-time Wellington resident, died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.
"The players are so excited to play in the WCT for Sunny's legacy, they loved her and want to support everything she did for them getting to play this level of polo," said WCT Ambassador Joanne Smicklas. Her husband, Dale, a former 8-goaler and recently-named World Polo League Commissioner, is also WCT Commissioner.
"This was Sunny's mission, to create a women's polo venue where the girls could bring their polo up," Smicklas said. "She remains an inspiration to other women who are determined to achieve their goals with grace and dignity."
Melissa Ganzi, USPA Florida Circuit Governor and Grand Champions Polo Club President and Smicklas family have played integral roles in the WCT's success which Hale always praised.
"The fact the WCT Finals are in Wellington during the U.S. Open sets the whole stage," Hale once said. "Women are inspired to play here. Grand Champions does a fantastic job. What it does for the WCT is it brings legitimacy to the fact they put on a great show, they've got great fields and you are right in the center of everything.
"That's why women's polo is in a new place in this generation because it never used to be a featured event. Grand Champions has taken it to that level and really gotten behind it. When I started playing women's polo it was a big deal if you got on a main field and that was if. It's fantastic how far women have come in polo."
Despite the USPA's 127-year history, it's only been 45 years that women have been officially "allowed" to play competitively. In 2017, Hale was posthumously honored as USPA Woman of the Year. She was honored for her achievements as a horsewoman, educator, and author in addition to her contributions to polo and her perseverance against all odds and never accepting "no" and "can't" for answers.
Women's polo remains the largest growing sector in polo, aided by the WCT Series founded in 2005 to help consolidate women's polo and promote high quality competition throughout the world.
Hale also created a women's ranking system in the U.S. and American Polo Horse Association to improve resources regarding polo ponies where players and owners can collect, preserve and record horses' pedigrees. The APHA was created in 2006 by Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
Palm City Polo, with two up-and-coming teenagers, won the Season 11 WCT Final. In a thrilling championship final, Palm City Polo (Jaqui Casey, Hope Arellano, Tiffany Busch, Mili Galindo), leading for most of the game, defeated Scribble Horse Polo Team (Kathy Iverson, Catherine Roze, Courtney Asdourain, Kirstie Allen), 5-4. Arellano, then 13 and youngest player in the tournament, was Most Valuable Player.
In the consolation game, Catena USA (Malia Bryan, Belinda Brody, Cecelia Cochran, Leah Masters) defeated Creative Marketing (Lyndsay Dolan, Dawn Weber, Amanda Roberts, Ashley Mckenzie), 8-2.
Catena USA has been the official timepiece of the WCT Final since its inception. Catena USA owner Bill Kraft is one of women's polo biggest supporters and valued sponsor.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest club with 10 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women's weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final and USPA National President's Cup.
During the 2017 winter season Grand Champions attracted a record 72 teams and another 18 teams during the spring season.
Grand Champions 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 only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.