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Work To Ride/Grand Champions Win U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship Opener In Overtime Thriller; Harris Scores Winning Goal

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. February 5, 2024---Work To Ride/Grand Champions won its U.S. Open Women's Polo Championship debut Sunday at rain-soaked Port Mayaca Polo Club.


By Sharon Robb

Photo by David Lominska



In a thrilling overtime finish, Shariah Harris scored the winning goal to give Work To Ride/Grand Champions (Caitlin Cregg, 3, Shariah Harris, 3, Maddie Grant, 6, Nina Clarkin, 10) a 6-5 victory over Iconica (Maureen Brennan, 5, Cande Fernandez Araujo, 9, Sofia Rivas, 5, Winifred Branscum, 3).


For Harris, 25, a Work To Ride alum, it couldn't have been a more perfect finish for her historical debut as the first black woman to play in the prestigious tournament.


"If I had it my way it wouldn't have been that interesting," Harris said with a laugh. "We would have sealed it away and not have to go to overtime. Hopefully, my guardian angel will carry me through the whole tournament."


Work To Ride/Grand Champions play Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. against Buena Vibra (Clara Cassino Seppe, 8, Milly Hine, 8, Valentina Tarazona, 1, Cory Williams, 4), 7-6 overtime winners over BTA/Lazy 3 (KC Krueger, 6, Sarah Wiseman, 7, Anna Palacios, 5, Jordan Fikes, 3). The team's third and final bracket game is Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. against BTA/Lazy 3.


Before time ran out in regulation, Clarkin managed to get the ball in a good position for the throw-in. In overtime, Clarkin won the throw-in and hit the ball to Harris who turned her pony and scored off a near side neck shot with 7:15 left.


"Thankfully, we hit the ball down to the end before the sixth chukker ended," Harris said. "Going back to the tent we were like 'we shouldn't have gotten to this point,' but it's right here so let's go out and win it.


"I saw Nina had the throw-in and I called for a back shot and she hit a great back shot and I just dropped my horse on it and hit it. The first thought I had was shoot to goal and as I hit it I was like "go in, go in, go in."


Work To Ride/Grand Champions jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening chukker behind Grant's two 30-yard penalty conversions in the first three minutes of the game. Work To Ride/Grand Champions could not capitalize on its other scoring opportunities in the opening chukker, but managed to hold Iconica scoreless in the chukker, which was briefly stopped by umpires for a rain delay.


"The rain didn't help at all," Harris said. "I couldn't grip my reins, I couldn't grip my mallet. It was hard to see at one point. It was a mess."


Work To Ride/Grand Champions had two more scoring opportunities early in the second chukker before Fernandez Araujo scored on a quick neck shot with 4:15 left to trail 2-1. A minute later, Fernandez Araujo converted a 30-yard penalty to tie the game.


Work To Ride/Grand Champions and Iconica continued to miss scoring opportunities in the third chukker. After Brennan was assessed a yellow card, Grant converted another 30-yard penalty for the 3-2 lead. Work To Ride/Grand Champions regained its two-goal cushion lead when Harris deflected Clarkin's missed 60-yard penalty inside the goal post.


Iconica clawed its way back in the fourth chukker. Fernandez Araujo converted a 40-yard penalty at the 7:28 mark, her third goal of the game, cutting the lead to 4-3. After missing a goal attempt two minutes later, Iconica tied the game on Fernandez Araujo 30-yard penalty conversion.


Clarkin regained the lead, 5-4, for Work To Ride/Grand Champions on a great run to goal with 2:11 left in regulation game. Fernandez Araujo converted another 30-yard conversion in the final minute sending the game into overtime.


"We're very, very happy with the win and very happy with the game and we are looking forward to the next one," Clarkin said. "In the end I think you are always lucky to win in overtime."


It was only the third time the team had competed in a game. They had one practice session.


"I think every game I feel that we know each other more," Clarkin said. "We work better together. We are definitely improving as we go. I think we will take a lot from this game and I think we can also learn a lot from the game and I hope that will help us moving forward."


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 will play 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 National Polo Center in Wellington.


Due to wet field conditions and impending rainstorms all day, Monday's games were postponed until Tuesday. Games are Mint Eco Carwash vs. defending champion La Fe at 10 a.m. and Parrotheads Polo vs 90210 Polo at 1 p.m.

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