Edging their way past teams in bracket play comprised of the best women’s players in the world, Cabo Wabo and Hawaii Polo Life entered the Susan G. Komen U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™ Final 3-0 on Saturday, March 23, at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida. Relocated from Houston, Texas, to South Florida for 2019 the tournament faced some rain delays with preliminary games being split between Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, Florida, and IPC. Showcasing strategic team organization and exceptional horsepower, the women of Hawaii Polo Life demonstrated their prowess in the second half to definitively claim the championship title 10-5.
Utilizing the sharp reflexes of a 10-goaler, Nina Clarkin skillfully took a pass from Mia Cambiaso around defenders to score the opening goal within the first thirty seconds of play. An offensive powerhouse from the start, Hawaii Polo Life successfully prevented Cabo Wabo from completing any of their set plays in the first chukker, enabling the team in blue to pick up another field goal and an impressive Penalty 4 conversion. “It’s amazing now to look back and think we’ve won considering we nearly didn’t make it into the semifinals,” Clarkin said. “I knew that we had a good team and we hadn’t quite reached our potential yet, but in the semifinals we played well. All four of us played hard, worked for each other and the team really came together today and it showed.”
As play intensified in the second, costly fouls against Hawaii Polo Life gave Cabo Wabo the opportunity they had been waiting for to get on the board. Countering Clarkin’s early Penalty 2 conversion, Hazel Jackson went to the penalty line three times and did not disappoint. Pulling her team forward, Jackson’s precision narrowed the gap and ended the half 4-3 in favor of Hawaii Polo Life.
Only a one-goal difference headed into the third, both teams made powerful and strategic plays in their attempt to gain a significant lead. The first to strike was from Mia Cambiaso, taking advantage of a broken knock-in to swiftly put the ball between the opposing goal posts, Hope Arellano retaliating soon afterwards. Closing in on Cabo Wabo’s goal, Hawaii Polo Life was poised to take advantage of every mistake, Clarkin securing a two-goal lead 6-4. “If I could mark the opposing team’s best player and keep them out of the play with the horses I had and execute that job properly I knew I would be helping my team,” Pamela Flanagan said. “Just focusing on that player and playing unselfish polo is something I really took away from this experience and how impactful that strategy can be for your team.”
Their momentum and confidence continuing to build, Hawaii Polo Life peaked in the fourth, delivering an explosive series of four consecutive field goals to assert their dominance. All her goals coming from the penalty line, Jackson converted a final Penalty 4 before conceding victory to Hawaii Polo Life 10-5.
“Today I played two horses I’d never been on before and Adolfo [Cambiaso] and Robertito [Zedda] told me to trust them,” Flanagan said. “They were the best horses I’ve ever been on in my life! One of the horses that Mia normally plays she passed to me and I passed my horses on to Anja Jacobs. We all shifted horses around and made it work for our position, which worked out beautifully. We were really organized, Nina was incredibly instrumental, and without the support of Valiente we wouldn’t have performed as we did.”
Responsible for seven out of Hawaii Polo Life’s 10 total goals, Nina Clarkin was named Most Valuable Player.
“I was so well mounted. I was playing horses today that Adolfo Cambiaso plays, I mean what a dream,” Clarkin exclaimed. “I felt that they did everything I needed them to on the field. I think both teams were really well mounted and that showed in the speed of the game and the quality of the polo played today. Adolfo told me when he gave me the horses, ‘no excuses now,’ so I’m just pleased that I did my job!”
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Got Milk, played by Hope Arellano in the second chukker.
Chris Dawson representing Hawaii Polo Life expressed his excitement at being a part of promoting women’s polo through this sponsorship. “First and foremost, this is an incredible opportunity for Hawaii Polo Life to support women’s polo,” Dawson said. “In Hawaii we love everyone so it’s a great opportunity for people to make friends while playing polo competitively and then build on it. I expect next year there will be more teams and more opportunities and if we did that then we did our job.”
Clarkin echoed his sentiments on the overarching benefits to women’s polo. “For us to be able to play on platforms like these, IPC’s U.S. Polo Assn. Field and Palermo in Argentina, is great for women’s polo because its being given the exposure it deserves. Just look at the quality of the players in the game today, young players like Hope [Arellano], Mia [Cambiaso], and even Pam [Flanagan]. There are a lot of women coming through the sport who are very talented polo players and it’s only going to get better and better.”
by U.S. Polo Association
Photos: Gabrielle Stodd