Northern Trust triumphs over Rockin’ P/The Plank Co’s in the heart-stopping final of the 2015 USPA Open Women’s Polo Championship at the Houston Polo Club.
The Houston Polo Club in the heart of Texas, where Women’s Polo was first introduced in the 1980s, played host once again to one of the most prestigious Women’s Polo championship, the United States Polo Association’s 5th Annual Open Women’s Polo Championship titled, ‘Grace Under Pressure,’ sponsored by champagne company Freccianera.
This year’s finals were undoubtedly one of the most exciting seen in recent times, with Northern Trust competing against Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s for the championship trophy. The action on the pitch was fast and furious throughout with Northern Trust coming back from a three-goal deficit in the last chukka after suffering two penalty runs in a row. There was a penalty one called against them. The ball was thrown in at the 15-yard line with Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s taking possession with Northern Trust foaling again. Rockin’ P/The Plank Co’s was then awarded another penalty one.
They raced ahead with a three-goal lead with four minutes remaining. Everybody thought that Northern Trust was beaten. However, the girls were undeterred. They came back with two goals and trailing by only one goal. Kristy Outhier took the ball and made a beautiful cut shot. She got a pass there with thirty seconds after the first bell had rung. It ended up deflecting off the inside of the goalpost but the umpires were able to see that it never touched the line.
It deflected onto the field six or eight inches. Caroline Anier came in on a tough angle right at the goal post, pulled her horse to the left, and made a shot between her horse’s front legs and cleared it. It finished with Julia Smith falling pretty hard behind the goal post. The umpires Fergus Gould and Brent Mirikitani waited until the ball was in neutral territory, then blew the whistle. There were still 15 seconds on the clock. The score was 7-7.
There followed another throw-in from the boards 50 yards from The Northern Trust goal line. Northern Trust took control of the ball toward their goal, then Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s fouled and landed with an open goal penalty which Northern Trust scored as the match went into overtime. They won 8-7 in the nail-biting final chukker. The crowd was ecstatic—the atmosphere electric.
Throughout the three-day tournament, the line-up was impressive. They had over 70 women players participating. British player Sarah Wiseman played brilliantly with a 7-goal handicap. Also playing was Caroline Anier, a veteran of the game, who has held an outdoor 4-goal regular handicap (not just women’s) for many years and played all over the world, and Kristy Outhier (formerly Kristy Waters) who played magnificently throughout. The two players that undeniably stood out during the tournament were Argentinian player Lia Salvo, the highest handicapped female player in Argentina, and Hazel Jackson who played for Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s and is in her prime. She was one of the best players in the tournament.
Lia was on the Freccianera winning team of the USPA Women’s Handicap Tournament and also played for BTA Polo team who were knocked out of the finals by the Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s team when Hazel broke the tie in an overtime shoot-out.
Many of these girls played in the two tournaments the USPA Open Women’s Polo Championship—20-26 goal played on the flat with no handicaps given, with the USPA Women’s Handicap with 14-18 goals. There were six teams in the latter and four teams in the Open.
The atmosphere and ambience of the Open officially, organized by the Houston Polo Club and the USPA, was undoubtedly breathtaking for players and spectators alike, with over a thousand strong cheering crowd at the presentation of the championship trophy by Gian Mario Travella from champagne sponsor Freccianera.
The weather conditions were ideal—warm and humid, despite a tremendous amount of rain beforehand which thankfully did not affect the fields. Towards the end of the tournament, it was sunny and warm with a nice breeze, the ideal conditions for both ponies and players alike.
Of course, after such a tremendous climax to the three-day tournament, the players were treated to lavish hospitality, not only on the eve of the final but throughout the entire event. Parties were hosted by private individual owners of the numerous fields and ranches surrounding the club. The first party to celebrate the start of the three-day tournament was hosted by one of the sponsors at a hotel in Houston. It carried an Asian-style theme with sumptuous canapes and wine flowing throughout. There were many others, including a magnificent party hosted by Houston Polo Club at Esther Kane’s gorgeous polo ranch home. They cooked Asado—a typical Latin American dish of grilled beef and chicken, with all the accouterments finishing with a medley of mouth-watering desserts complimented with an open bar throughout the night including the sponsors champagne Freccianera. Everyone from the tournament was invited.
The Houston Polo Club itself is located in what many would describe a very cool setting. It is an old club in the heart of the city. The club exudes an urban feel with a raised highway at the end of the field combined with a heavenly countryside backdrop of old oak and pecan trees where the grandstands back onto. The hospitality boxes are old style and could be likened to the style of Guards Polo Club in England.
Houston Polo Club does not have a clubhouse, but under their umbrella are ranches where matches are played on within the surrounding area, owned by club members each with their own clubhouse. These incorporate Tonkawa, Isle Carol owned by the Goodman Family, Scott Wood’s ERG, Pecan Acres, and Kristi Goodyear’s Ranch.
The United States Polo Association has been integral in the promotion of Women’s Polo. With their collaboration and endorsement of the Houston Polo Club, they are regarded as principal pioneers and supporters of Women’s Polo in the USA; 43% of the club members are women. USPA’s plans for Houston Polo Club in 2016 include once again hosting the USPA Open Women’s Polo Championship, with a second tournament of the USPA Women’s Handicap, held on the parallel dates of this year’s tournament. Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday for the Open., and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday for the Women’s Handicap.
Bob Puetz, the Executive Director of the USPA, has an impressive background. He has been playing for over 40 years and a USPA member for the majority of that time. Although now retired as a player, his handicap was 5 outdoor and 7 in the arena at the height of his career. He grew up in Chicago, played in the Chicago Armory Polo Club, and moved on as a pro to California, where he managed the Empire Polo Club for over 13 years playing in San Diego and Santa Barbara. He has played all over the world including in England alongside the Prince of Wales. These days, he still finds playing polo infectious but more with players who just want to have fun rather than winning trophies.
He is an enormous supporter of women’s polo in the USA. Bob says, “It is great to see how strong and good women’s polo is. When I was managing the Empire Polo Club in the 1990s, we hosted the Women’s Open there. Even at that time, we had Claire Tomlinson playing, Sally Hale and her daughters Sunny and Stormy, Carolyn Anier, Lesley-Ann Masterton from Jamaica, Stacey Galindo together with Carolyn Anier, Kristy Outhier, and Dayelle Fargey from Canada who are all veterans. It was a different group. Now, because of the growth of women’s enthusiasm for polo, there are many young women participating like Julia Smith, Sarah Wiseman, Courtney Price (in her teens and in high school), and Kendall Plank who is in college. They are all up-and-coming, playing alongside renowned players such as Hazel Jackson who played for Rockin’ P/The Plank Co.’s and Maureen Brennan, captain of the Northern Trust team who may be a little bit older but plays 12, 14 and 16 goal Polo including men’s polo. Maureen is a strong rider, has excellent horses, and is a great organizer of the team, their meetings, and strategies. This was irrefutably verified when they won the USPA Open Women’s Polo Championship.
“I am so tremendously happy that Polo Lady is covering this. I think it is great for Women’s Polo worldwide, where it is now and how powerful it is.”