Concluding a competitive weekend of elite women’s arena polo, Ace Sportswear, with Demitra Hajimihalis, Ingrid Donnan, and Anna Winslow-Palacios, and Boothwyn Pharmacy, composed of Katie Mitcham, Cindy Halle, and Jessica Schmitt, captured hard-fought semi final victories to meet in the illustrious USPA Women’s Arena Open Final on September 26.
A spirited comeback from Boothwyn Pharmacy was completed on a two-point goal from Cindy. However, Anna was the hero, scoring the game winning goal with one minute remaining to lead Ace Sportswear to an 11 to 10 victory and the coveted title.
“We knew it was going to be a defensive battle. We’re all really seasoned arena players, so we all mark-up really effectively. We knew that we all had to be disciplined on the man, disciplined on the wall, which is tough against this team because I know they have the same strategy,” says Anna.
Withstanding an opening run from Boothwyn Pharmacy, Anna picked up the ball at midfield with a burst of speed to open the scoring for Ace Sportswear. Fighting her way along the wall on consecutive plays, back-to-back goals from Demitra gave Ace Sportswear the early 3 to 2 lead in the first chukker.
A resilient Boothwyn Pharmacy pulled even in the opening stages of the second chukker, until a booming penalty from the center line for Anna found the goal for a two-point conversion, pushing Ace Sportswear’s lead to two. After exchanging goals, Ace Sportswear resorted to their long-distance shooting once again, this time with Ingrid scoring the two-pointer to send her team into halftime with an 8 to 5 advantage.
Determined to extend their lead further, Ace Sportswear raced out of the gate in the second half, leaving Boothwyn Pharmacy pinned in front of their own goal. After three missed attempts from Ace Sportswear, Demitra found the goal for her third score of the day.
Regrouping, Boothwyn Pharmacy found their footing in open play, finishing the third chukker with goals from Katie and Jessica to decrease the gap to just two. Kept just out of reach through most of the game, Boothwyn Pharmacy took their opportunity in the final chukker with time running out.
Trailing by two, Cindy jumped on the loose ball and sent a two-point shot into the goal, tying the score and leaving spectators on the edge of their seats entering the final minutes.
Blocking the clearing attempt, Anna turned the corner and hit the ball in, giving Ace Sportswear the one-goal lead with one minute remaining. Despite the best efforts of Boothwyn Pharmacy, Ace Sportswear held on to claim the prestigious title with an 11 to 10 victory.
Ace Sportswear inscribed their name on the USPA Women’s Arena Open trophy for the second time after winning in 2017. “I’ve lucked out in playing a few times with Anna and we’ve gained a lot of great chemistry. It was really fun, competitive polo and it translates onto the field really well,” Ingrid points out.
Capturing her second title in as many days after winning the USPA Women’s Arena Handicap, Demitra reflected on the memorable weekend. “It feels incredible. I really have to thank my teammates in both flights. They made it really fun and I think it’s just the attitude of no matter what, we knew we were going to have fun.”
Deploying five horses that rotated over four days of play, she reiterated the work that was put in to capture the two titles. “I’m very exhausted and so are the horses today. They all played amazing,” she shares.
The Most Valuable Player award was presented to Anna, whose six-goal performance, including the game-winning goal, helped lead Ace Sportswear to the win. “I actually switched my horse order around quite a bit from the semi final,” she comments. “I put my second half horses in the first half today, which I think helped a lot. I started really strong with my big run-and-gun horses and ended on my steady horse.”
Capturing the victory again with Demitra, Anna continues, “She’s really positive, which is great. We feed off each other’s energy, which is awesome. I would play for this team over and over again.” she exclaims.
Played in the first and fourth chukkers, Cindy’s Estrella, a 15-year-old Argentine Mare, was awarded Best Playing Pony. “She got hurt before the season started, but I’m so happy to have her back,” Cindy explains. “She’s got a huge bump and moved over a lot of big horses. Anyone could play her, but I really love playing her. She worked really hard out there.”
Building on their chemistry from their 2017 title, Ace Sportswear gained valuable experience together on the grass this past summer, playing in a women’s tournament together in a lead-up to the USPA Women’s Arena Open.
Ingrid drew on her experience from playing with the heralded Cornell program. “I learned to play at Cornell, started freshman year and worked my way up to starting on varsity,” she says. “In my senior year, I was starting for the National Intercollegiate Championship, but it was cancelled. I never got my opportunity to shine. This is a pseudo-nationals for me to finally show all the years of hard work.”
Photographs by Oana Moore