By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON----With three talented teenagers, Chateau D'esclans won the Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Final Tournament with a 7-3 victory over CrossFit El Cid Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
Ten-goaler Nina Clarkin of Great Britain and teammates Mia Cambiaso, 16, Mia Novillo Astrada, 17, and Riley Ganzi, 18, dominated the game from start-to-finish.
After three chukkers, Chateau D'esclans led CrossFit El Cid (Paige McCabe, 6, Cecelia Cochran, 5, Tiffany Busch, 6, Sarah Wiseman, 8), 7-1, after three chukkers.
"The girls just were fantastic, I am so proud of them," Clarkin said. "We knew they were going to come out with a really good game plan. They worked so hard. Riley just worked, worked, worked all day. And the two Mias were just fantastic. We just had to go out and put the pressure on them, go fast and play controlled, simple polo.
"It's exciting to see such talent coming through and that I can be here to help them along the way. They are young, talented players with big futures. They were great teammates. I think Sunny would be really pleased how far the polo has come and what sort of talent is here."
Chateau D'esclans, the lowest handicap team rated at 21 goals (Ganzi, 2, Cambiaso, 5, Novillo Astrada, 4T, Clarkin, 10), advanced into the final with impressive round-robin qualifying wins over CrossFit El Cid, 8-5, and San Saba, 11-2.
"I think Sunny would be so happy especially because we have all been playing at her junior levels and now we are finally playing in the open," Ganzi said. "It's crazy that we have gone this far. I wish she could be here to watch us today. I think she would be really proud.
"This was a blast playing on this team," Ganzi said. "It's really competitive but you are also learning the entire time and working together. The WCT is a really valuable experience. Nina is the greatest. On the field, we look up to her so much. She's always making sure we are in the play. We are always working out there, there is never a second where you have to think about where to be. You're always focused about the play. You're never not in the game."
Clarkin earned the Whispering Angel Tournament Most Valuable Player and Captain MVP awards.
Cambiaso, winner of the inaugural Women's Argentine Open with Clarkin and daughter of 10-goal great Adolfo Cambiaso, was named game MVP.
Clarkin and Cambiaso each scored three goals. Novillo Astrada added one. Tiffany Busch scored all three goals for CrossFit El Cid.
"This was so much fun," Novillo Astrada said. "Nina is amazing. I like how she talks. You always know what to do. Playing with Riley and Mia, my friends, was very fun."
Several fathers watched proudly from the sidelines including Miguel Novillo Astrada.
"I am very proud, she played really hard today and had a great game," Novillo Astrada said. "The horses were the horses I played in the high goal and she rode them really well.
"When she was a little girl she showed that she loved riding and horses. I never really pushed her. She asked me one day, "Daddy, I want to play a tournament so I took her to play and she loved it."
In the 8-goal championship final, Grand Champions (Summer Kneece, 0, Gracie Brown, 2, Malia Bryan, 3, Sydney Jordan, 1) led by MVP Bryan, defeated Catena (Olivia Uetztrich, 2, Catherine Roze, 1, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, 2/Rebecca Clark, 2, Jennifer Williams, 3), 5.5-0 in a shortened game in the third chukker. Bryan and Kneece each had two goals. Williams was presented the Captain MVP Award.
In the 16-goal title game, G-String/Amista Polo (Olivia Merlos, 2, Hope Arellano, 4, Malia Bryan, 3, Gillian Johnston, 2), led by MVP Arellano, defeated Hawaii Polo Life (Olivia Uetztrich, 2, Pamela Flanagan, 3, Mia Cambiaso, 5, Courtney Asdoourain, 6), 3.5-3. Cambiaso, who competed in two finals, scored all three of her team's goals. Merlos, Arellano and Johnston each had one goal. Johnston earned the Captain MVP Award.
Open Oro, played by Clarkin and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was the open division Catena Best Playing Pony.
Canadian thoroughbred Cricket, played by Pamela Flanagan, was the Museum of Polo Best Playing Pony for the 16-goal.
Tiare, played by Bryan, was the Whispering Angel Wine Best Playing Pony for the 8-goal.
All three were American Polo Horse Association best registered horses of the finals. 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.
After a year's hiatus, the WCT Final attracted a Who's Who of women players. Twenty-eight women competed 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.
"This was Sunny's mission, to create a women's polo venue where the girls could bring their polo up," said WCT Ambassador Joanne Smicklas. "She remains an inspiration to other women who are determined to achieve their goals with grace and dignity. The players were 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."
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.
In addition to Catena USA, other major tournament sponsors were: Whispering Angel Wine "Rose All Day," Chateau D'esclans and Nano's Mallets. VIP guests, players and sponsors were treated to a variety of finger foods from Wellington-based Chef Donna Kokulak.
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.