The 2021 USPA Women’s Arena Open and USPA Women’s Arena Handicap, the highest level of women’s arena polo competition held in the United States, will be held on September 23 to 26 at Virginia Polo, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The games will feature eight experienced women’s teams competing for two national trophies.
“COVID-19 created a challenge for us to be able to host this event, and I’m glad we are able to do it this year,” head coach and general manager of Virginia Polo Lou Lopez says. “The support we are getting from all the women in the area shows that they are ready to come back and compete as well. I’m looking forward to a thrilling and high-quality event.”
Alternating days for the tournaments, arena women’s competition will begin with the USPA Women’s Arena Handicap semi-finals on Thursday with the final on Saturday. The USPA Women’s Arena Open semi-finals will be held on Friday with the final scheduled for Sunday.
With the exponential growth of women’s polo in recent years, the USPA recognized the need for a national tournament celebrating the best of women’s arena competition. Championed by University of Virginia coach Lou Lopez, the USPA Women’s Arena Open first took shape in 2016 as the Women’s Arena Challenge Cup.
While the original aim had been to hold an open tournament, USPA regulations limited an “open” arena tournament to a 12-goal handicap and above. The highest-rated woman at the time, the late Sunny Hale, was rated at 5-goals in the arena, followed by only two 4-goal women’s arena players, closing the door on the possibility of the tournament with regular arena handicaps.
Luckily, a precedent had already been set with the creation of the US Open Women’s Polo Championship, the outdoor grass version. The addition of women’s outdoor handicaps sparked the concept of women’s arena handicaps, which allowed multiple teams to meet the required handicap level for an open tournament.
The USPA Women’s Arena Handicap held its inaugural competition in 2017 simultaneously alongside the USPA Women’s Arena Open with Drumcliffe claiming the trophy. In 2018, the stage was set for a competitive rematch between University of Virginia and Drumcliffe, with the Grant sisters defending the title with 17 to 9.
Overcoming two previous defeats in the final, UVA’s perseverance paid off in 2019 with their first win with 16 to 12 and Maddie Grant’s third consecutive title.
Forcing the 2020 USPA Women’s Arena Open Final into a penalty shootout, Five String Farm’s Cindy Halle performed under pressure, securing the only overtime penalty goal to win the trophy with 12 to 11.
Meanwhile, in last year’s USPA Women’s Arena Handicap Final, Rebellis scored an impressive 19 goals to defeat Belle Vodka and cap off the tournament with a dominant victory.
Featuring two defending champions from 2020, Boothwyn Pharmacy’s Jessica Schmitt and Cindy Halle will attempt to earn their second USPA Women’s Arena Open trophy in 2021, now joined by new teammate Katie Mitcham.
As the only defending champion of the 2020 USPA Women’s Arena Handicap, Anna Winslow-Palacios will compete with Garrison Forest in 2021.
Participating in both tournaments, several ladies including Katie Mitcham, Jessica Schmitt, Demitra Hajimihalis, Anna Winslow-Palacios, and Posey Obrecht are hoping to raise two national titles in the same weekend.
As a National USPA Arena Event, the USPA Women’s Arena Open and USPA Women’s Arena Handicap are qualifying tournaments for all amateur players with 1 through 3 goals. This allowed them to earn points towards the National Arena Amateur Cup (NAAC), which will be held at Legend’s Polo Club in Kaufman, Texas in November 2021.
Points are based on the number of teams and team standing in each tournament. All points are awarded to each team member, not the team as a whole.
As USPA Official Events, the USPA Women’s Arena Open and USPA Women’s Arena Handicap semifinals and finals will be livestreamed free of charge exclusively on Global Polo TV at GlobalPolo.com.
Photographs by Mike Ryan, Chris Weber, and David Murrell