WELLINGTON, Fla., January 31, 2019--Masai of Palm Beach won the first Women's League Monthly Final of the winter polo season Wednesday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Masai of Palm Beach (Malicia von Falkenhausen, 2, Alina Carta, 4, Hope Arellano, 5, Courtney Asdourian, 6, Nicole Watson, 2) held off San Saba (Rileigh Tibbitt, 0, Slaney O'Hanlon, 4, Alyson Poor, 4, Clarissa Echezarreta, 5, Dawn Jones, 6) for a thrilling 6.5-5 victory.
Rising star Hope Arellano, 15, of Masai of Palm Beach was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a team-high three goals.
"It was very fun," Arellano said. "I was very lucky to get MVP. It's a great prize, I love it. I'm really excited about this league. I'm going to play next month as well so I am super excited.
"This was only my second time playing with Courtney and I felt like by the second and third chukker we started to get to know how to play with each other more," Arellano said. "I felt like we all started to click by the third chukker. It was nice to win. My horses played really well, I was proud of all of them."
Elena, a 6-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred mare, co-owned and played by Courtney Asdourian in the second chukker, was selected Best Playing Pony.
"She has been going super well," Asdourian said. "This is kind of her first season playing consistent polo. She is stepping up really nicely. She started off a little bit fresh, but she is settling in now.
"She is the kind of horse that the more you use her, the stronger she feels and more confident she gets. She is an all-around fun mare. She flies and she runs."
Masai of Palm Beach started out with a .5 lead on handicap and slowly built a 4.5-1 lead late the third chukker before San Saba scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-4.5 lead early in the fifth and final chukker.
With 38 seconds left in the game, Arellano scored the go-ahead goal and Von Falkenhausen added an insurance goal on a nice run to end the game.
"They caught us a little bit on our heels," Asdourian said. "Dawn brings a big speed element to the game so if you're not ready to play flat out then she is going to get you. That caught us off-guard but we came back."
Jones scored a team-high three goals for San Saba. Echezarreta and O'Hanlon each added one goal. Watson, Carta and Von Falkenhausen each scored one goal for Masai of Palm Beach.
Asdourian was the team's field general helping her younger teammates throughout the game.
"Hope is always a fun player to play with," Asdourian said. "She keeps her head down. She works for the team. She comes for advice and she takes the advice. She wants to improve. She is very talented. She is the kind of young player that anybody would love to play with. She makes your job easy."
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, who recently became the first woman in history to win the prestigious 35th Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz.
Carta was impressed with the competitiveness of the final featuring 10 players of all ages and ability level.
"This was fantastic," Carta said. "It's been great. We had a really good time. I think the girls are understanding what the league is about and why it was formed---to have fun, good camaraderie, good horses and to play polo. We're lucky to play on a great field."
Carta said she expects to field three teams in February. "I am very excited about this," Carta said. "It is fun to watch."
Held every Wednesday during the winter polo season, the Women’s Weekly League is held under The Polo School's umbrella. On the last Wednesday of each month a tournament is held with MVP and BPP honors and gifts exchanged among players.
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, 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 after only two years.
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.
"In the last two years with the Women's Argentine Open and this league the bar has been raised in women's polo," Jones said. "This is a great opportunity for women to come every week with a chance to play women's polo without being thrown together on a team at the last minute. It's nice to get these kind of opportunities to play thanks to Melissa and Alina. I couldn't be happier."
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 Asdourian, 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.
"It was so fantastic to be here," Jones said. "It is gratifying to see all these women play at such a high level. Every one of them. Malicia went and made a beautiful finishing goal all the way down the field. I was happy with Slaney, Alyson and Clarissa. I'm really proud of Hope and Courtney playing so well together as a team with Alina. Rileigh is from the show jumping world and enjoying playing polo, too, which I love seeing. Everybody is hitting the ball well. I love being here watching them all."
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation's largest and innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club nestled in the heart of the world's winter equestrian capital, is hosting 22 tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 0 to 40 goals, WCT Finals and women's weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions and Valiente Polo Farm.
Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, South Africa, Nigeria, Venezuela and England.
Season highlights for 2019 are the Sterling Cup that begins Thursday at Jan Pamela Field and Santa Rita Polo Farm, March 1-31 $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, March 1-16 John T. Oxley Memorial and March 3-24 $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament.
The biggest highlight of the season is the debut of the Feb. 5-April 15 World Polo League, the nation's only 26-goal league featuring some of the world's top players and team sponsors at Grand Champions and Valiente. The WPL will fill the void created when the U.S. Polo Association, the sport's governing body, announced it was lowering high goal polo to 18-22 goals at International Polo Club and would not have 26-goal polo and instead feature the Gauntlet Polo Series with the C.V. Whitney Cup, USPA Gold Cup and U.S. Open.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique 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 three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels and ages. 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, created by Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is thriving. 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.
Photos by Gabrielle Stodd