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HERK’S STORE & GRILL COOK UP A WINNING STRATEGY

Oct 26, 2021 4:00 AM

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2021 Southwestern Circuit Arena Women's Challenge Champions: Herk's Store & Grill- Ekaterina Kotova, Tiamo Hudspeth, Wendy Stover.
2021 Southwestern Circuit Arena Women's Challenge Champions: Herk's Store & Grill - Ekaterina Kotova, Tiamo Hudspeth, Wendy Stover.

The Central Texas Polo Association and Two Wishes Polo Club (Lockhart, Texas) hosted the Southwestern Circuit Arena Women’s Challenge at Texas Military Polo Club’s grass arena October 16-17, 2021. While significant areas of Central and Eastern Texas were challenged by significant amounts of rainfall during the week, Poteet, Texas, home of Texas Military Polo Club, avoided the rain. The weekend was beautiful with red sunrises each morning, cool temperatures and a light breeze on Saturday.

“When you play on a team that works hard for each other and stays positive throughout its hard not to succeed.”  – Tiamo Hudspeth, Herk’s Store & Grill

Taking advantage of the USPA’s Tournament Stimulus Package, the tournament featured four 7- to 10-goal teams: Elite Motion & Performance Pixies (Danielle Gibson, Amanda Massey, Stephanie Massey Colburn*), Herk’s Store & Grill (Ekaterina Kotova, Wendy Stover, Tiamo Hudspeth*), Lease Plan (Lisa Yanskey, Bev Greenwood, Megan Rahlfs) and 10X (Sarah Morelli, Kelly Coldiron, Roxy Keyfauver). Former intercollegiate players were key throughout the tournament with Texas A&M University (TAMU) alumnae Bev Greenwood, Amanda Massey and Stephanie Massey Colburn and Megan Rahlfs, a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University (SMU).

Elite Motion & Perfomance Pixies' Amanda Massey and 10X's Roxy Keyfauver battle for possession.
Elite Motion & Perfomance Pixies' Amanda Massey on the ball with 10X's Roxy Keyfauver in pursuit.

Starting off the competition on Saturday, 10X challenged Elite Motion & Performance Pixies followed by Herk’s Store & Grill taking on Lease Plan. 10X started off the first chukker with all three teammates scoring a goal in just under two minutes of play and adding to their one-goal handicap advantage. Elite Motion & Performance Pixies' opening goal was quickly matched by Keyfauver. Elite Motion scored twice more and 10X added a final goal to end the first chukker 6-3. In the following two chukkers 10X maintained the pressure scoring another six goals while holding Elite Motion scoreless. In the fourth and final chukker, Elite Motion added two more goals to the tally, but 10X rode away with the first finalist spot 13-5.

10X's Roxy Keyfauver prepares to make her shot downfield.
10X's Roxy Keyfauver prepares to make her shot downfield.

The second game was all Herk’s Store & Grill in the first with Hudsepth scoring two, Stover one and an assist from an opposing player’s horse to give Herk’s a 4-0 lead. “Wendy Stover and I are both horse trainers and we felt very strong in our horsepower,” Hudspeth revealed. “The other key to our team’s success was that she and I have great chemistry. Our third player Ekaterina [Kotova] was a huge contributor and she worked hard and listened to our coaching throughout the games.” Herk’s continued their dominance throughout the remaining three chukkers with five goals in the second and three in the third and fourth chukkers while holding Lease Plan to four goals. Securing the win 15-6, Herk’s Store & Grill would meet 10X in Sunday’s final.

“Playing alongside Tiamo [Hudspeth] and Wendy [Stover] was my best experience in polo so far. Their confidence and knowledge of strategy was motivating and also both of them are amazing communicators in the arena.”  – Ekaterina Kotova

The consolation match between Lease Plan and Elite Motion & Performance Pixies was a close and hard-fought match. However, the first chukker belonged to Lease Plan with team sponsor Yanskey scoring three goals and team captain Rahlfs scoring one, holding their opponents scoreless. After regrouping during the break, the second chukker was dominated by Elite Motion who scored four to briefly tie the game while holding Lease Plan to only one. Capping off the chukker with arguably the best shot of the tournament, Amanda Massey hit a beautiful two-point angled shot from way past the 25-yard line. After halftime Lease Plan added two in the third and Elite Motion only one. In the fourth it was back and forth with each team adding two goals to end the match with a victory for Lease Plan 9-7.

Lease Plan's Megan Rahlfs strides towards the goal.
Lease Plan's Megan Rahlfs aims a shot towards goal.

The championship game proved to be the best match of the weekend and ended up being a much closer game than the final score indicated. Both teams played hard and competitive team polo. A demonstration of man, line, ball, all players were marked almost the entire game and there was only one true breakaway and run to goal. 10X started off with one goal on handicap, but it was Herk’s Store & Grill’s Stover who immediately scored in less than a minute to level the playing field. 10X’s Coldiron quickly matched the goal, but Herk’s took control of the remainder of the chukker with Hudspeth converting a Penalty 2 and adding two more from the field. Keyfauver added a final goal for 10X to close the chukker 4-3. In the second Stover started the scoring with a goal two minutes into play, however Keyfauver answered with a field and Penalty 3 conversion to tie the scoreboard at halftime 5-all.

10X's Roxy Keyfauver leans into the bump on Herk's Store & Grill's Tiamo Hudspeth.
10X's Roxy Keyfauver leans into the bump on Herk's Store & Grill's Tiamo Hudspeth.

“Tiamo and I know each other well and we have so much confidence in each other. Even though neither of us had played with Ekaterina [Kotova] before, she was a perfect fit to our team. She played strong in both games and she came through with some clutch plays and goals!”  – Wendy Stover

In the third it was now Kotova’s turn to score followed up by Hudspeth, but Keyfauver retaliated for 10X. “I think the success of our team hinged on several key factors,” Stover said. “Tiamo and I know each other well and we have so much confidence in each other. Even though neither of us had played with Ekaterina [Kotova] before, she was a perfect fit to our team. She played strong in both games and she came through with some clutch plays and goals! In addition, we were extremely well mounted, which as we all know, can be crucial to any team’s success.” Heading into the final chukker the game was close with Herk’s leading by one. However that did not last long as Herk’s Store & Grill extended their lead with four quick goals. Keyfauver scoring a single goal for 10X, it was not enough to close the gap and Herk’s Store & Grill claimed the title 11-7.

Herk's Store & Grill's Wendy Sover reaches for a forehand shot ahead of 10X's Kelly Coldiron.
Herk's Store & Grill's Wendy Stover carries the ball ahead of 10X's Kelly Coldiron.

In addition to the trophy, the champions also were awarded George Wood custom mallets donated by Karl and Julie Hilberg and a one-hour arena tactics session with Tom Goodspeed. As the runners-up, 10X received U.S. Polo Assn. handbags donated by USPA Governor-at-Large Robin Sanchez.

Teammates Tiamo Hudspeth and Wendy Stover congratulate each other.
Teammates Tiamo Hudspeth and Wendy Stover congratulate each other.

Asked to join the team because of her experience in the Texas Arena League, Ekaterina Kotova was thrilled for the opportunity to play with more experienced women. “Playing alongside Tiamo [Hudspeth] and Wendy [Stover] was my best experience in polo so far,” Kotova revealed. “Their confidence and knowledge of strategy was motivating and also both of them are amazing communicators in the arena. It definitely helped me gain a better understanding of the game!”

Most Valuable Player Tiamo Hudspeth hits a neck shot.
Most Valuable Player Tiamo Hudspeth hits a gorgeous neckshot.

“Tiamo Hudspeth is the ultimate professional and a bad a** polo player - she always gives 110%. She is so well organized and she coached us beautifully the whole time.”  – Wendy Stover

Tiamo Hudspeth was named Most Valuable Player and received a George Wood custom mallet donated by Karl and Julie Hilberg. “Winning MVP was a real honor and I think it is a direct reflection of my string of horses,” Hudspeth shared. “I felt like I could out maneuver anyone on any of the horses I played. I was very proud of my horses especially since I played three homebreds from San Ysidro Polo, and the other three were prospects we purchased at a young age that I finished.”

“I would like to add that Tiamo Hudspeth is the ultimate professional and a bad a** polo player - she always gives 110%,” Stover emphasized about the team captain. “She is always supremely mounted on horses that she has trained for San Ysidro Polo and herself. Tiamo is so well organized and she coached us beautifully the whole time. She truly deserved the MVP award!”

Best Playing Pony was awarded to Shorty, played and owned by Wendy Stover and pictured with Stacey Stover.
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Shorty, played and owned by Wendy Stover and pictured with Stacey Stover.

Best Playing Pony honors and a polo bridle donated by Shawn Gibson were presented to 16-year-old Thoroughbred gelding Shorty (Eagle County x Hold Your Prospect), owned and played by Wendy Stover. Also known as “The Dude,” Shorty was found in Arkansas as a 4-year-old by Stover’s husband Stacey. “At 15.1 hands, Shorty is super quick and agile which makes him ideal for the arena,” Stover shared. “He is quite the lover boy. He loves to give kisses and nuzzles you for treats!”

Megan Rahlfs was presented with the Sportsmanship Award and a polo saddle donated by Shawn Gibson. “Playing with supportive and sportsmanlike players makes the game more enjoyable for everyone and I’m honored they felt I exhibited those qualities,” Rahlfs said.

Sportsmanship Award recipient Megan Rahlfs pictured with her new polo saddle donated by Shawn Gibson.
Sportsmanship Award recipient Megan Rahlfs pictured with her new polo saddle donated by Shawn Gibson.

Referred to as ‘the best little grass arena in Texas,’ Texas Military Polo Club’s grass arena proved to be excellent footing for peak performance. “I am a fan of a grass arena since that’s what I grew up playing on in Maui, Hawaii, so I was quite comfortable and so were my horses,” Hudspeth said. “The soil in Poteet, Texas, is extremely sandy so the horses had great traction.”

Taking home the consolation trophy for Lease Plan, Rahlfs enjoyed a full weekend of competitive women’s polo. “It was great to play among so many talented players as well as promote women’s polo here in Texas,” Rahlfs added. “I love that tournaments like these bring old and new friends together in such a fun environment. I’m looking forward to the next one!”

Lease Plan's Megan Rahlf turns on the nearside from a defending Herk's Store & Grill Tiamo Hudspeth.
Lease Plan's Megan Rahlf with a nearside shot away from Herk's Store & Grill's Tiamo Hudspeth.

A thank you goes out to all those who made the tournament a success: sponsors – Shawn Gibson, Tom Goodspeed, Robin Sanchez, Karl and Julie Hilberg; umpires – Robin Sanchez and Jack Crea; Murrell Photography; the United States Polo Association and the USPA Umpires, LLC.

Also, Brady Williams, Mark and Myra Osburn, Roxy Keyfauver and Nacho Estrada who jumped in and helped when necessary to make the event successful.

Lease Plan Beverly Greenwood's and Elite Motion & Performance Pixies' Stephanie Colburn congratulate each other after a hard-fought game.
Lease Plan's Beverly Greenwood and Elite Motion & Performance Pixies' Stephanie Massey Colburn congratulate each other after a hard-fought game.

*Tiamo Hudspeth and Stephanie Massey Colburn are Team USPA alumnae. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.

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