By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, FL., January 3, 2019---The first-of-its kind Women's Weekly Polo League opened its third season Wednesday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Cavalia Polo (Alyson Poor, 4, Malicia von Falkenhausen, 2, Hope Arellano, 5, Alina Carta, 4) defeated CrossFit El Cid (Nicole Watson, 2, Belinda Brody, 4, Slaney O'Hanlon, 4, Cecelia Cochran, 5), 5-4.
Arellano, 16, the youngest player in the game, scored the winning goal in the fourth chukker and finished with two goals.
Carta led Cavalia Polo with a game-high three goals. Watson led CrossFit El Cid with two goals. Brady and O'Hanlon each had one goal. The lead changed hands four times before Arellano's game-winner.
The only full-time weekly women’s polo league in the world was created by Carta, a polo pioneer and one of the highest ranked women in the U.S. in the 1980s, and Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club President, World Polo League co-founder and avid player.
Both Carta and Ganzi wanted to give women's polo players, the fastest growing sector in the sport, an opportunity to play on a regular basis on world-class polo fields.
On Wednesday, the women athletes were the first players to compete on one of the well-manicured Santa Rita fields to kick off the 2019 winter season.
“Melissa is really supportive and gung-ho about it,” Carta said. "We are extremely grateful to her and to have the opportunity to play at Santa Rita every week. The field was amazing, it played great. We had a fabulous time for our first time back out.
"It was a great way to start out the season," Carta said. "It's amazing it's our third year. It's a great place for the girls to have fun, enjoy polo, work on their game and their horses without the pressure. They started a woman's league at Eldorado this year. It's catching on which is great. It's great for the ladies and great for Florida."
Eldorado Polo Club in Indio, Calif. is introducing a Women's Chukker League on Fridays in January. Club officials said if there is enough interest it will be extended through the season.
"I just think more women are getting involved and enjoying the sport," Carta said. "It's fantastic, not like a few years ago when I played polo with not that many girls. Last night I was so excited to get started."
As the season progresses, Carta expects more players to compete.
“It’s going to keep growing,” Carta said. “Bring two horses and play one day a week. It still allows the girls to play their tournament polo on the weekend. To think, when I started playing in 1979, we were only two girls. To see this is amazing.”
Held every Wednesday during the winter polo season, the Women’s Weekly Polo League is sponsored by The Polo School. On the last Wednesday of each month a tournament is held with MVP and BPP trophies and prizes.
All team entry fees benefit The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned club. The Polo School offers lessons to men, women and children of all ages and ability levels and offers scholarships.
Grand Champions annually hosts the Sunny Hale's Legacy WCT Finals in April. Hale, a Hall of Famer and 10-goaler who died at age 48, helped raise the awareness and popularity of women's polo throughout the world. The Women's Argentine Open, recently won by La Dolfina Brava (Mia Cambiaso, 6, Milagros Fernandez Araujo, 7, Nina Clarkin, 10, Candelaria Fernandez Araujo, 8), has helped to validate women's polo.
Hale, the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open, spearheaded the sport’s growth with the creation of the WCT, the largest women’s polo league in the world, and women’s polo rankings. The Women’s Weekly Polo League offers another opportunity for women players of all ages and skill levels to play on a regular basis.
Dawn Jones, who competed in the 2018 Women's Argentine Open with Santa Maria de Lobos, and seven other women players including league players Cecelia Cochran and Courtney Asdourain, developed the Women's International Polo Network website (WIPN), a non-profit which recently launched and features women tournament schedules, results, player bios and stories with the objective of connecting women polo players and clubs from around the world.
In addition, this season the U.S. Women's Open will be held in Wellington. The preliminary games are March 10-17 at Port Mayaca and IPC will host the U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship on March 23.
"This league leads to a lot of other teams getting formed for other tournaments," Carta said. "I want the girls to play well but also have fun, enjoy themselves and be courteous. This is what polo used to be for me."
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm's 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 at the turnkey facility.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 102-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.
Club owners Marc and Melissa Ganzi, both accomplished players, take pride in teaching and sharing the exciting sport of polo with anyone interested in learning and have been catalysts of the popularity of polo in both Wellington and Aspen.
The Polo School has been thriving at Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm. It is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.