USPA WOMEN'S ARENA OPEN®
Women’s arena competition has a recent history in the sport beginning with the creation of the Women’s Intercollegiate Championship in the late 1970s, followed by the Girls’ Interscholastic Championship in the early 1990s. Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, hosted the first USPA-sanctioned Women’s Arena Open in 1991. After a three-year stint however, the tournament fell into abeyance. With the exponential growth of women’s polo in recent years, the Association 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 at Virginia Polo, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia, as the Women’s Arena Challenge Cup. While the original aim had been to hold an open tournament, Association 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 U.S. 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.
In 2021, Ace Sportswear (Demitra Hajimihalis, Ingrid Donnan, Anna Winslow-Palacios) and Boothwyn Pharmacy (Katie Mitcham, Cindy Halle, Jessica Schmitt) captured hard-fought semifinal victories to meet in the illustrious final. A spirited comeback from Boothwyn Pharmacy was completed on a two-point goal from Halle, however, Winslow-Palacios was the hero, scoring the game winning goal with one minute remaining to lead Ace Sportswear to an 11-10 victory and the coveted title at Virginia Polo, Inc. (Charlottesville, Virginia). Read article here.
Moving to the West Coast for the first time in its history, this year's edition of the USPA Women’s Arena Open will be hosted by Orange County (OC) Polo Club in Silverado, California. The tournament will field four teams highlighted by the highest-rated American women’s arena player, 9-goaler Marissa Wells. The rosters also feature three Team USPA alumnae and many Intercollegiate/Interscholastic alumnae from across the country.
As a National USPA Arena Event, the USPA Women’s Arena Open is a qualifying tournament for all amateur players -1 through 3 goals to earn points towards the National Arena Amateur Cup (NAAC) which will be held at Legend's Polo Club in Kaufman, Texas, in November 2022. 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.
OC Polo Club will be taking advantage of the USPA's Tournament Support Program (TSP) for the USPA Women’s Arena Open, which provides eligible USPA Member Clubs with waived tournament fees, trophies or trophy reimbursements up to $1,200, one professional umpire and $2,500 in prize money at no extra cost.
The USPA originally created the Tournament Stimulus Package (TSP) to help member clubs host USPA events when the United States was emerging from the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis. The USPA wanted to continue to support member clubs with TSP benefits in 2022. Therefore, it extended and expanded TSP under a new name - the Tournament Support Program. Each USPA Member Club can obtain TSP benefits for two USPA events, with the option of a third under specific circumstances.
Photo: 2021 USPA Women's Arena Open® Champions: Ace Sportswear - Ingrid Donnan, Demitra Hajimihalis, Anna Winslow-Palacios. ©Oana Moore