By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., April 7, 2018---The stage is set for what is expected to be the most competitive tripleheader in WCT history on Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
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 meet in the open championship of the Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final at 12:30 p.m. in the third game of a tripleheader.
In the opening game at 10 a.m., Grand Champions (Summer Kneece, A, Gracie Brown, 2, Malia Bryan, 3, Sydney Jordan, 1) will play Catena (Jennifer Williams, 3, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, 2, Catherine Roze, 1, Olivia Uetztrich, 2) in the 8-goal final.
At 11:15 a.m., G-String/Amista Polo (Hope Arellano, 4, Gillian Johnston, 6, Malia Bryan, 3, Olivia Merlos, 2) will meet Hawaii Polo Life (Olivia Uetztrich, 2, Pamela Flanagan, 3, Mia Cambiaso, 5, Courtney Asdourain, 6) in the 16-goal final.
On Friday in front of a packed house, the finalists for the open championship were determined in a round-robin continuation from Wednesday.
In the opening two chukkers, CrossFit El Cid came from behind to knock off San Saba (Dawn Jones, 6, Clarissa Echezarreta, 6, Alyson Poor, 4, Clara Cassino, 7), 6-4. McCabe led scoring with two goals and Cochran added one. Cassino scored San Saba's only goal. San Saba was coming off three tournament victories in South Florida.
"Winning that first game helped our confidence," Wiseman said. "We are a team that works well for each other."
Chateau D'esclans, the tournament favorite led by 10-goaler Nina Clarkin of Great Britain, won its pair of two-chukker matches, defeating San Saba, 11-2, and CrossFit Cid, 8-5. Against San Saba, Clarkin led with four goals, Cambiaso had two and Novillo Astrada added one and against CrossFit El Cid, Clarkin had two goals and Cambiaso and Novillo Astrada each had one goal. Wiseman had one goal for CrossFit El Cid.
Wiseman, another top player from Great Britain with an 8-goal handicap, said her team will "definitely be the underdog" in the final.
"It's always better being the underdog, God, yeah," Wiseman said. "We are a strong four-man team and all good players. We just need to tidy up a few things. We all play really nicely together. If we can just make that all click on Sunday, then watch out, we could be dangerous."
Wiseman, who plays frequently in Houston, is making her Florida WCT debut. The last time she played at Grand Champions was as a member of the winning England team against the U.S. in Nov. 2012 held before the International Cup.
"The level of play here is great," Wiseman said. "I think in the future it's just going to get better and better. The future is going to be amazing. You have some fantastic lady players that want to see the sport grow.
"Sunny has left a wonderful legacy for everyone here," Wiseman said. "I had the privilege of playing against Sunny a lot overseas and she spread her message far and wide. She inspired me and helped me a lot with my polo. If I can help bring something to the game in order to carry on what she started then I will do my very best."
Busch, a longtime WCT player, is also impressed with the quality of play in this year's tournament especially with Chateau D'esclans.
"You have to keep on your toes with these teams because if you make one mental error, drop your man for one split second they are gone," Busch said. "This is good polo here. I competed in the first Women's Argentine Open and it's a bit like that."
"This is right up there with the best of the best I've played in for sure," Busch said. "The enthusiasm of the younger players and women coming up are taking it very seriously creating their strings for this level and it's wonderful to see.
CrossFit El Cid, playing without any practice sessions, got stronger throughout the chukkers.
"I am loving this team," Busch said. "Cecelia and I have played a lot together. This is my first time playing with Paige and Sarah. We just figured it out as polo players."
Busch admits Chateau D'esclans will be a formidable opponent.
"Of course, you never want to lose but we went in there hungry today to make sure we got into the finals," Busch said. "We will re-strategize and create a powerful horse list and have a good game plan. It's a mental game. They've got Nina who is extremely strong; both Mia's who are really nice lovely players, they don't ever give up and you've got Riley that is solid. Riley made some wonderful plays out there today that allowed her team to get the ball and go. They are a good team."
Until this week, McCabe had played against her three teammates and never with them.
"It's a privilege, it's a great team," McCabe said. "I am always battling against them so it's really nice wearing the same jerseys. The quality of play is inspiring, especially to see all these young up-and-coming players who are so talented, energetic and well-mounted. It's promising for the future. Sunny devoted her life to this and I hope we can do her some justice and carry on the message."
Clarkin said she and her three teenage teammates are up for the challenge.
"The great thing about today was once we both beat San Saba we knew this game was sort of a practice and for us to get an idea of the opposition and make a plan," Clarkin said. "We know they are going to come out all guns blazing and so are we.
"I am so happy with our team," Clarkin said. "We have so much talent with the three girls up front. They are real workers and so good on the ball. It makes my job nice and easy. I am really looking forward to it and for me it's fun we are going to be playing four chukkers.
"We know they are going to be tough. We are in the final and playing this amazing tournament in memory for Sunny. All we want is really good polo and get out there and win."
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).
Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final at Grand Champions: 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, Chateau D'esclans vs. CrossFit El Cid, 12:30 p.m.
WORLD CUP: Saturday, 10 a.m., Sebucan vs. Palm Beach Illustrated, GCPC Field 5; Noon, Pony Express vs. GSA, GCPC 4; 4 p.m. Quarterfinal, Aspen Valley Polo Club vs. Deeridge, GCPC 2; Sunday, 10 a.m., Audi vs. Valiente, GCPC 3.
Other events: Las Acacias 4-8 Goal; USPA National President's Cup.