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Work To Ride/Grand Champions Win Big, Advance Into Semifinals Of U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. February 12, 2024---Work To Ride/Grand Champions advanced into the semifinals of the U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship Sunday with an impressive win at Port Mayaca Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Photos by Laura Linfoot

Work To Ride/Grand Champions (Caitlin Cregg, 3, Shariah Harris, 3, Maddie Grant, 6, Nina Clarkin, 10) broke open a close game in the second half against BTA/Lazy 3 (KC Krueger, 6, Sarah Wiseman, 7, Anna Palacios, 5, Jordan Fikes, 3) for a 6-3 victory. In the other Bracket II game, Buena Vibra defeated Iconica, 6-4.

Work To Ride finished with a 2-1 record in Bracket II play behind Buena Vibra (Valentina Tarazona, 1, Cory Williams, 4, Clara Cassino Seppe, 8, Milly Hine, 8), the only remaining undefeated team (3-0) in the eight-team tournament. Iconica finished at 1-2 and BTA/Lazy 3 dropped to 0-3. The top two teams in each bracket advance into the semifinals on Thursday.

"I am so happy, I am so excited," said Harris, a Work To Ride alum making history as the first Black woman to compete in the Women's U.S. Open. "My first time in the Women's U.S. Open and we're going to the semis and have a shot to go to the finals. Of course, we had to hold our breath a little bit to make sure Buena Vibra won because if they didn't win, we would have to go to a three-way shootout.

"I think we did expect to get this far. Looking around at the talent we have on our team I absolutely thought we could. It was just a matter of us hitting our stride and getting our chemistry together."  

Two Bracket I games are scheduled for Monday. At 11 a.m., Mint Eco Carwash (1-1) plays 90210 Polo (1-1) and at 12:30 p.m. defending champion La Fe (1-1) plays Parrotheads Polo (1-1).

It was the best game of the tournament for Work To Ride/Grand Champions after playing two overtime games (beating Iconica and losing to Buena Vibra). Playing agressively and taking advantage of scoring opportunities, the foursome played well as a team.

"We showed that we don't need to go goal-for-goal, that we can solidly beat a team that we should solidly beat instead of having it go to the wire," Harris said. "It was good to get that win in there."

Work To Ride/Grand Champions set the tone early when Harris saved Palacios' goal attempt off the line to open the first chukker. Three minutes later, Clarkin saved another goal attempt. At the 2:04 mark, BTA/Lazy 3 got on the scoreboard first when Palacios converted a 60-yard penalty for her sixth goal of the tournament. A minute later, Grant tied the game with a goal.

Work To Ride/Grand Champions took a 2-1 lead on Clarkin's goal with an assist from Cregg early in the second chukker. Work To Ride/Grand Champions had several scoring opportunities before BTA/Lazy 3 tied the game with another Palacios penalty conversion from 30 yards out. Fouls plagued Work To Ride/Grand Champions, 7-3 in the first half, but mostly were penalty-5 set hits.

"It was 2-2 and we had a couple of opportunities," Grant said. "For the most part I think we were frustrated with how we were playing and knew we could play better. We got focused and did our jobs in the second half. I reminded myself to breathe.

"I thought we were capable of reaching the semifinals. We have a super strong team with great chemistry. We're better organized and the horses are playing super well."

Work To Ride/Grand Champions dominated the second half with Clarkin scoring just inside the goal post at the 3:06 mark for a 3-2 lead. Two minutes later Clarkin scored her third goal of the game off a long pass from Grant for a 4-2 lead.

Grant won the throw-in early in the fourth chukker and went on to score off a pass from Clarkin for a 5-2 lead with 5:47 left. The momentum continued with Grant winning another throw-in and scoring for a 6-2 lead. Palacios scored the final goal of the game on another 30-yard penalty conversion.

"We played well especially in the second half," Grant said. "It's great we're in the semifinals. I think the more games we play the better we get to know each other. The communication on the field was great and Augustin did a really great job giving us a good game plan. We knew where everyone was doing their job and communicating super well."

Clarkin, one of the world's three 10-goalers, played a key role as the team's field general directing her players on the field along with Coach Augustin Obregon from the sidelines and players' tent.

"Nina has been amazing," Harris said. "She always believes in us and pushes us because she knows we can do it. She is a great motivator and great person to be around."

Philadelphia-based Work To Ride is a non-profit organization that provides horsemanship education and equine sports training to low-income youth, ages 7 to 18, from under-resourced communities. The team is sponsored by Grand Champions President and World Polo League co-founder Melissa Ganzi. Grand Champions is the nation's largest polo club with 11 fields.

Eight teams are competing in the tournament presented by Brad and Kathy Coors Foundation and live streamed by USPA Polo Network.

Each team plays three four-chukker bracket games. The semifinals will be five chukkers and finals six chukkers. Preliminary and semifinal games will be at Port Mayaca Polo Club through Feb. 15. The final will be hosted Feb. 18 at the National Polo Center's U.S. Polo Assn Field One.



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