The first-ever Division II Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship took place on March 27 at Legends Polo Club in Kaufman, Texas. The final saw the University of Connecticut Huskies fiercely battle the Texas Tech University Red Raiders in a groundbreaking game for intercollegiate polo.
The former is composed of Kylie Dalton, Rylyn Koger, Elizabeth Leudesdorff, Madison Robicheau, and Toni Moore. Meanwhile, the latter comprises Lexie Harlan, Brianna Wolkober, Mary Kate Ratliff, Jordyn Rizzuto and Tatijana Mirski.
Both teams received a bye in the first round of play. UCONN edged out UC Davis in a narrow 8 to 7 semifinal win, while Texas Tech defeated Michigan State by 12 to 9 to nab their spot in the championship final. A high scoring back-and-forth first half led to a Huskies takeover in the remaining two chukkers – securing the 15 to 11 win and the championship title.
Leading scorer Elizabeth shared UCONN’s game plan going into the finals. “Our strategy for the game was to stay composed and take each play as it came,” she offers. “Our main goal was to communicate and work together as a team. We wanted to stay collected and not let the score, whether it was in our favor or not, affect our playing.”
UCONN’s Kylie, Rylyn, and Elizabeth combined their forces for five unanswered goals in the first chukker to deny the home-turf Texans any scoring opportunities. The three made careful and conscious efforts to control the throw-ins while simultaneously igniting their offense from the start,
Kylie, who began playing five years ago at UCONN, discussed her team’s strong start. The woman polo player says, “The first chukker’s success came from our team’s emphasis on having a good, strong start before the first whistle blew. We made sure to come out aggressive in the first lineup and win that right off the bat. We knew we had the strong side of our string of horses and wanted to capitalize off of that.”
Hungry to get on the board, Texas Tech’s Tatijana and Lexie were able to re-energize the Red Raiders in the second chukker. Tatijana scored three from the field and Lexie scored one from the field.
Also ramping up their defensive strategy, the Red Raiders were able to keep the Huskies off the board entirely to bring Texas Tech within one goal of UCONN at halftime.
Rylyn spoke about UCONN’s second chukker troubles.“We realized we were not working as a team and getting frustrated with one another. We needed to talk more, play off of each other, and communicate in order to come back and stay on top,” she explains. “We had to remember that we came here to win, we worked hard to be the best, and this was our chance to prove that. We could not let one scoreless chukker rattle us and keep us away from reaching our goals.”
Agreeing with Rylyn, Kylie adds, “We went into halftime with a fresh mentality: the score was 0 to 0, everything started from scratch.”
Clearly recognizing a need for change if they wanted to win, UCONN completely revamped their game going into the second half. With a total of seven goals from the field off of Elizabeth’s mallet, a stunning two-pointer from Kylie, and the help of a pony goal, the Huskies were able to put an impressive 10 goals on the board between the third and fourth chukkers.
The Red Raiders attempted to keep pace, with Tatijana finding the goal three times. Mary Kate also added to the board with two of her own, a Penalty 1 conversion and pony goal. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough to overcome UCONN’s offensive prowess. As the final horn sounded, the Huskies led 15 to 11 over the Red Raiders to capture the very first Division II Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship title.
Speaking to her seven second-half goals, Elizabeth shed light on her mindset. “My main strategy when I’m playing is to play as if the score is 0 to 0,” she reveals. “No matter how much we might be winning or losing, I play to the absolute best of my ability and try not to let the score get to my head.”
Parents of the UCONN girls chimed in, praising their year-round dedication to improving. Jake Koger, Rylyn’s father, shared his respect for the newly-crowned champions. “These kids have been up early in the morning working horses all year long,” he reveals. “Even during COVID, they were there working, training, and playing hard. They played as a team and it was really an outstanding performance.”
For many players like Texas Tech’s Lexie, this tournament, along with the creation of Division II polo, was one of the first opportunities to play at both an equally matched and competitive level. She took time to note her gratitude for making it this far and being able to participate in the tournament. “I didn’t start playing until spring of 2020,” the woman polo player shares. “I played one chukker at a prelim. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to compete! So I got to finish out my last season and it’s been amazing.”
All-Stars in the Division II Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship included Elizabeth Leudesdorff (UCONN), Grace Grotnik (Southern Methodist University), Mary Kate Ratliff (Texas Tech), and Liliana Gonzalez (UC Davis). The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Jessica Liu (Michigan State), while Freida Witmer (Skidmore) was awarded the Horsemanship Award.
Best Playing String was presented to Southern Methodist University. Meanwhile, Bil and Will Walton’s Katniss took home Best Playing Pony honors. Adding another BPP blanket to her growing collection, Katniss also recently won the award in the 2021 Southwestern Circuit Sportsmanship Cup, Texas Arena League (2021 and 2022), and competed in the 2021 U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship for the winning team Dallas Polo.
Celebrating a historic win in this first-of-its-kind tournament, graduating senior and UCONN captain Rylyn shared her appreciation and love for her team. “The UCONN polo team is my family,” she says. “The girls on my team are my best friends and I am so lucky to have been their captain.”
Elizabeth adds, “My favorite part about being on the UCONN polo team is definitely my teammates and coach. I’m a freshman – I’ve only been playing with these girls since September. But we have incredible chemistry both on and off the field.”
With this win, UCONN brought home their eleventh national title, eight of which have now been won by the women’s team. Kylie expressed her pride in UCONN’s triumphant victory. “We have not won a national title since 2008,” she shares. “To get this opportunity to do it again was just amazing. Not only for our team and players, but for our program as well.”
Photographs by David Murrell