By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 6, 2018---If Thursday's second day action of the Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final is any indication, the future of women's polo is in good hands.
The 8-goal and 16-goal teams, featuring several up-and-coming talented young players, took to the field for the first time in the tournament at windswept Santa Rita Polo Farm.
In the 8-goal four-chukker game, Grand Champions (Summer Kneece, A, Gracie Brown, 2, Malia Bryan, 3, Sydney Jordan, 1) defeated Catena (Jennifer Williams, 3, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, 2, Catherine Roze, 1, Olivia Uetztrich, 2) 4.5-3 in a tuneup for Sunday's final at 10 a.m.
Bryan, who played both the 8- and 16-goal games, led scoring with three goals including a penalty-four conversion. Jordan added one goal. The team also received .5 on handicap. Williams scored all three of her team's goals in the second half. Olivia Uetztrich also played in both games.
Gracie Brown, 15, a fourth-year player from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, enjoyed playing with and against more experienced players.
"It was a lot of fun," Brown said. "I am really happy with the team, it was really good. I think it's good for women to play and have their divisions. The quality of this 8-goal level is good and helps me play a lot better.
"I like playing with the better girls. It helps me get better rhythm. I wasn't getting too worried in the end. I think it's good how it turned out. It helped a lot playing them today because we got to know their team. We know what to expect on Sunday."
Kneece, 12, of Aiken, S.C. is one of the youngest players in tournament history. She is following in the footsteps of her dad, pro Tiger Kneece.
"My dad gave me a lot of advice," said Kneece, who has been playing polo for eight years. "I like this format with the different women's levels. I like playing with everyone but I think the women's polo is a lot of fun.
"Women's polo is definitely competitive," Kneece said. "We expected a good game with them. My dad just told me to go out there, play hard and do my own thing. I want to keep playing polo."
Since her team didn't get a chance to practice before the tournament, Kneece liked having a tuneup game with her teammates before the final.
"I like my team," Kneece said. "I'm very happy with the way the team played. I think we will do very well on Sunday."
The 16-goal game was just as competitive. G-String/Amista Polo (Hope Arellano, 4, Gillian Johnston, 6, Malia Bryan, 3, Olivia Merlos, 2) edged Hawaii Polo Life (Olivia Uetztrich, 2, Pamela Flanagan, 3, Mia Cambiaso, 5, Courtney Asdourain, 6), 3.5-3. The teams will play again in Sunday's final at 11:15 a.m.
Arellano led G-String/Amista Polo with three goals including two penalty conversions. Cambiaso led Hawaii Polo Life with three goals.
The open division 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.
San Saba (Dawn Jones, 6, Clarissa Echezarreta, 6, Alyson Poor, 4, Clara Cassino, 7), Chateau D'esclans (Riley Ganzi, 2, Mia Cambiaso, 5, Mia Novillo Astrada, 4T, Nina Vestey Clarkin, 10) and CrossFit El Cid (Paige Boone McCabe, 6, Cecelia Cochran, 5, Sarah Wiseman, 8, Tiffany Busch, 6) will battle for the two final spots.
After a year's hiatus, the WCT Final has attracted a Who's Who of women players. Twenty-eight women are competing in three levels of play.
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.
Women's polo remains the largest growing sector in polo, aided by the WCT Series which has helped consolidate women's polo and promote high quality competition throughout the world.
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.
2018 Winter Schedule
(Subject to change because of weather and scheduling conflicts).
APRIL: Las Acacias 4-8 Goal; $100,000 World Cup (0-40); USPA National President's Cup.
Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final at Grand Champions: Friday, Open, San Saba vs. Chateau D'esclans vs. CrossFit El Cid, Grand Champions, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 8-Goal Final, Grand Champions vs. Catena, 10 a.m., 16-Goal Final, Hawaii Polo Life vs. G String-Amista Polo, 11:15 a.m., Open Final, Round Robin Finalists, 12:30 p.m.