Over 70 women gathered at the Houston Polo Club (HPC), in Houston, Texas, to play in what has become the largest women’s tournament in the country showcasing some of the best women’s polo talent in the world.
HPC offered four levels of women’s tournament polo including the Bayou Cup (0-2 Goal), Farish Invitational Cup (4-6 Goal), U.S. Open Women’s Handicap and U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®.
The competitive week of polo culminated in the battle for the title of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® on Sunday, 13 November, between Rocking P Lockton and San Saba. After a stop and go first few minutes of play, Hazel Jackson scored the first goal for Rocking P Lockton. Jackson was followed up a few minutes later by a 30-yard open goal penalty conversion by Kristy Outhier in favor of Rocking P Lockton to take an early two-goal lead. Sunny Hale answered with a breakaway out of the throw-in which was left behind for Dawn Jones. She sent the ball high and through the goal to put San Saba on the board. The thirty second horn blew and Jackson scored again, this time a skillful drive-by nearside backshot to end the first chukka 3-1, in favor of Rocking P Lockton. Rocking P continued to dominate into the second chukka with three unanswered goals, including a goal from Athena Malin and two more from the unstoppable Jackson bringing Rocking P Lockton’s score 6-1 with a resounding five-goal lead at the half.
San Saba came back to life in the third with excellent defensive strategy, curtailing Rocking P Lockton’s scoring to one goal. An impressive 260-yard carry from Sarah Wiseman with a nearside finish from Jackson, widened the gap to seven. Despite San Saba’s solid efforts they were unable to find the goal, moving into the final chukka trailing 7-1. A penalty 3 conversion by Outhier two-minutes into the fourth continued the momentum for Rocking P Lockton. Time was winding down as the ball popped over the boards and out of play numerous times. A final goal from Jackson, an exceptional carry from behind the center line sealed the deal with only 1:30 left in regulation time. A battle until the very end, as the thirty second horn blew San Saba’s Dawn Jones scored the last goal to end the game. Rocking P Lockton seized the 2016 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship with a decisive 9-2 victory over San Saba.
“For me it was a fantastic tournament with amazing teams,” said Sunny Hale. “With the Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT) and this tournament there were a total 20 teams, that make it not only the largest women’s tournament, but the largest tournament in the United States. I think it’s a credit to the club, and the girls participating. I thought the Rocking P Lockton was well organized and put on a great show—they were amazing. I think something else that needs to be mentioned is that the reason this tournament is back in competition, is due to the efforts of Luis Echezarreta, Martin Muñoz and Scott Wood. They wanted to have a women’s open, went to the USPA, petitioned and got it back, and also to the club for bringing in so many great players. It’s fun for the young players to see other women that are coming from overseas and gives them something to aspire to,” Hale continued.
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Hazel Jackson who scored six of the total nine winning goals. “Our strategy going into the game was to win. We knew it was going to be really tough. Sunny is always a formidable force to be reckoned with but we stuck to our strategy,” said Wiseman. “Kristy was our warrior, we put her on Sunny. She works so hard and has done great. Amazing team, everyone was focused and it makes a huge difference,” exclaimed Jackson.
At sixteen years old, Athena Malin is the youngest player to win the coveted trophy. When asked what this tournament meant to her she replied, “Winning this tournament has been great. I have made so many friends, and the family concept here is great. I have only ever played in California, so this is my first time branching out and playing in another state. I came here wanting to do well for all of the people I didn’t know and have fun and enjoy it, and I think I accomplished that! I learned a lot from the other girls I played with–the importance of going in disciplined and with a strategy. We worked together as a team, we worked with each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we are confident in each other. I think that’s why it worked out so well for us.”
Sharing the number one position with Athena Malin was 18-year-old Courtney Price. Truly a family affair with a polo playing father and younger sister and brother competing in Interscholastic tournaments, her parents were overjoyed at her accomplishment. “We feel pretty amazed, blessed and fortunate, “beamed mother Kelly Price. “It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen. You have to put the organization together and get the horses and practice with your teammates. This is her second time to the finals of the open and her first win. She did great,” stated father Carl Price.
Best Playing Pony Professional was awarded to 5-year-old London played by Sarah Wiseman in the third chukker, owned by Carl Price. Best Playing Pony Amateur was presented to Chici, played and owned by Dawn Jones. American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Best Performing American Quarter Horse was awarded to Law Man’s Riata played and owned by Kristy Outhier in the first and fourth chukkas. “The day she was born, I thought wow, she is going to be a polo horse. She was difficult to train, but it was worth it. She has so much heart and go, and is a true testament to a Quarter Horse. So much Stamina, not any different than my thoroughbreds,” exclaimed Outhier. “We came here knowing the game was going to be so hard. The other team is amazing, all four of them. We watched game film all week to practice, and watching their games all week, made us realize that they are four great players. So we came here probably the most studied I have ever come to an event. Almost everything that came out today was what we had talked about doing. Even in the fourth chukka, I still thought it could turn at any minute because I just have that much respect for those players. They are so good and it was a tough game. It was awesome that two big operations, Melissa and Dawn showed up and supported and elevated the level of play. Sunny hasn’t played for a couple years and they also got Sunny back, which was great!”
Photos © Kaylee Wroe