In an emotionally-charged final, San Saba captured the Sunset “Sunny” Hale Memorial Tournament last Wednesday at Santa Rita Polo Farm. The Grand Champions Polo Club monthly women’s league final featured San Saba, Cedar Croft and Stage Hill in a seven-chukker round robin in honor of Hale, the all-time greatest women’s polo player. The part-time Wellington resident died February 26, 2017 in Norman, Okla. due to complications from cancer. She was 48.
Fourteen players competed in honor of one of the sport’s pioneers and first woman in polo history to win the 26-goal U.S. Open in an era when the sport was male-dominated. Hale was recently inducted posthumously into the Polo Hall of Fame.
The final lived up to expectations with three talented teams:
San Saba: Scarlett Davenport, Laura Willson, Clarissa Echezeretta, Malia Bryan and Josephine Hermans.
Stage Hill: Haley Heatley, Molly Houtton, Slaney O’Hanlon and Alyson Poor.
Cedar Croft: Riley, Malicia Von Falkenhausen, Kylie Sheehan, Alina Carter and Nicole Watson.
BPP: Spot, a 14-year-old Argentine mare owned and ridden by Alina Carta..
MVP: Kylie Sheehan. Sheehan was an all-star polo player at Garrison Forest School in Maryland and co-captain of its 2009 national championship team. She was a starter on the University of Virginia’s women’s polo team, where she was a three-time captain and 2012 intercollegiate national champion. She was also the 2009 Polo Training Foundation Interscholastic Player of the Year. Sheehan was making her 2018 debut in the women’s league. Last year she played all three months.
For San Saba, Malia Bryan scored a game-high four goals. Laura Willson added three goals. It was San Saba’s second tournament victory in four days. Sheehan, who helps run Flying Cow Polo in Wellington, has been playing polo for eleven years. No one in her family plays polo.
Clarissa Echezarreta, a longtime player and one of polo’s pioneers, is impressed by the quality of today’s women’s polo players. Echezarreta was MVP in the Feb. 25 Sunny Hale Women’s Tournament.
Every player on the three polo teams was touched by Hale’s influence in the sport. Most players were friends of Hale, who was rated at five goals among men, the highest of any woman player in the sport’s history. Others had been motivated watching Hale and started playing polo.
Many of the players have competed in qualifiers for the Women’s Championship Tournament (WCT), the largest women’s league in the world which Hale founded to help open the door and break down barriers for girls and women. The WCT final will be hosted by Melissa and Marc Ganzi April 3-8 at Grand Champions Polo Club.
The monthly polo league, which concludes in March at Santa Rita, was created by Carta, one of the highest ranked women in the U.S. in the 1980s. Carta played with and against Hale in the U.S. and internationally including Singapore. Carta pitched the women’s league idea to Melissa Ganzi, Florida Circuit Governor and Grand Champions Polo Club president who loved it.