WELLINGTON, Fl., March 28, 2019—It was only fitting the season-ending women’s weekly polo league tournament end in a tie Wednesday at Santa Rita Polo Farm.
“Competitive but friendly,” Clarissa Echezarreta said with a smile.
San Saba (Malicia von Falkenhausen, 2, Nicole Watson, 2, Alina Carta, 4, Belinda Brody, 4, Clarissa Echezarreta, 5) rallied in the fourth chukker when Echezarreta broke away on a nice run to score the tying goal for a 3-3 tie against CrossFit El Cid (Cindy Halle, 4, Slaney O’Hanlon, 4, Cecelia Cochran, 4, Anna Winslow, 4, Rileigh Tibbitt, 0).
“I’m glad we came back,” Echezarreta said. “I thought they were going to beat us but we pulled it together. The teams were even and handicaps were good. It was a lot of fun.”
The league finale served as a tuneup for the April 2-6 Sunny Hale’s Legacy WCT Finals At Grand Champions. Tournament hosts Marc and Melissa Ganzi have waived fees for players in the 8-goal, 16-goal and open divisions and umpire fees to attract a good turnout in honor of Hale’s legacy.
The tournament is named in honor of legendary Hall of Famer Sunset “Sunny” Hale. The WCT is the only women’s polo event of its kind. The largest polo league in the world has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. The WCT Final, adult and junior qualifiers have U.S. and international players with more than 20 qualifiers in the U.S. alone including last weekend’s Susan G. Komen Women’s U.S. Open, won by Hawaii Polo Life.
Hale, the first woman in U.S. history to win the U.S. Open in 2000 with Outback and part-time Wellington resident, died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.
Women’s polo remains the largest growing sector in polo, aided by the WCT Series which has helped consolidate women’s polo and promote high quality competition throughout the world, along with the newly-formed WIPN.
Eight players, including league co-founder Alina Carta, competed in the season finale. Echezarreta led San Saba with two goals and Brody added one. Halle, O’Hanlon and Tibbitt each had one goal for CrossFit El Cid.
Held every Wednesday during the winter polo season in January, February and March, the Women’s Weekly League is held under The Polo School’s umbrella. On the last Wednesday of each month a tournament is held.
The only full-time weekly women’s polo league in the world was created by Carta, a polo pioneer and one of the highest ranked women in the U.S. in the 1980s, and Melissa Ganzi, Grand Champions Polo Club President, World Polo League co-founder and avid player. Ganzi is the first woman in history to win the prestigious 35th Snow Polo World Cup St. Moritz.
Carta and Echezarreta, two of the sport’s pioneers, have helped to build the foundation for future generations of women’s polo players.
“This has been fantastic,” Carta said. “This is our third year and it’s been unbelievable. The girls that started with us all got better and gained a lot of confidence. There was a lot of camaraderie. The league is fulfilling the reasons why we wanted to do it.
“It was a lot of fun,” Carta said. “It went by so fast. I’m sorry that it’s over. It’s been a great season. It was a way for the girls to get seen, meet other girls and to see where you’re at in ability compared to the other girls and handicap ratings.”
Added Echezarreta, “There are a ton of women playing in polo. We were lucky to play today because people are tired, their horses are taking a break from the Open and getting ready for the WCT. I think the excitement about this league is going to carry over to next year.”
All league team entry fees benefit The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned club. The Polo School offers lessons to men, women and children of all ages and ability levels and offers scholarships.
During the winter polo season, Grand Champions, the nation’s largest and innovative USPA-sanctioned polo club, is hosting 24 tournaments: 6, 8, 12, 20, and 0 to 40 goals, WCT Finals and women’s weekly league play and 26-goal World Polo League tournaments at both Grand Champions, Valiente Polo Farm and several other fields in the area.
Grand Champions tournaments attract a large international field of players from all corners of the world including India, Mexico, New Zealand, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada, Ecuador, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Germany, Uruguay, Azerbaijan, Australia, South Africa, Nigeria, Venezuela and England.
Season highlights for 2019 are the Sterling Cup, $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament, John T. Oxley Memorial and $100,000 World Cup Tournament, a unique 0-40-goal, winner-take-all single-elimination tournament and inaugural World Polo League.
Grand Champions and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and three polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation including one field for stick-and-ball with plans to build more polo fields in the future.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels and ages. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program, created by Grand Champions President Melissa Ganzi when the club first opened in 2007.
The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA-sanctioned polo club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. Scholarships are available. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November. Headed by Director of Operations Juan Bollini, The Polo School has nurtured several men and women polo players now playing in the pro and amateur ranks since its inception.