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HOW YOUTH PLAYERS BUILD THE BACKBONE OF AMERICAN POLO - AN ARTICLE BY CLICKPOLOUSA

Apr 12, 2022 7:12 PM

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2022 Division I National Intercollegiate Championship competitors at Virginia Polo Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia. ©Oana Moore
2022 Division I National Intercollegiate Championship competitors at Virginia Polo Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia. ©Oana Moore

As the U.S. Open Polo Championship is rounding out the final leg of the prestigious GAUNTLET OF POLO, all eyes have been on Wellington, Florida, to watch the best players compete for the trophy and ultimate glory. But despite generating the most attention, there’s a lot more polo going on all around the United States, especially between young players who dream of making it to the top level in the country one day.

In a recent display of talent, ability, and horsemanship, the National Interscholastic Championships took place in mid-March, showcasing some of the best high school players from around the country. Shortly after, the first-ever Division II Intercollegiate National Championships were held, giving an unprecedented opportunity to developing teams that are still fostering new and inexperienced players. In the wake of all this great polo, the Division I Intercollegiate National Championships were just played this past weekend.

Yale Polo Club's Saralyn Painter. ©David Murrell
Yale Polo Club's Saralyn Painter at the 2022 National Interscholastic Championship in Brookshire, Texas. ©David Murrell

Outside of just these tournaments, hundreds of young, passionate players take to the arena each year to learn, play, and improve. It is these players that essentially create the backbone of American Polo.

This is a very special season, as it marks the one-hundreth anniversary of Interscholastic and Intercollegiate polo in America. This week in CLICKPOLO, we spoke with Liz Brayboy, the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) Committee Chair of the United States Polo Association.

Aiken Polo Club's Madison Jordan and Houston Polo Club's Lance Stefanakis. ©David Murrell
Aiken Polo Club's Madison Jordan and Houston Polo Club's Lance Stefanakis jostle for position in the 2022 Open National Interscholastic Championship Final in Brookshire, Texas. ©David Murrell

What’s the importance of I/I polo in the United States and how it is today?

“With over 120 teams representing 33 colleges and 37 high school programs, I/I Polo is one of the fastest growing sectors of the sport in the U.S. Students learn to play in the arena and develop skills that will carry them forward in the sport. This is the 100th anniversary of I/I polo, with the first intercollegiate tournament held in 1922, with interscholastic matches following in 1928.

Women’s intercollegiate polo was added in 1978 and Girls’ Interscholastic in 1991. The evolution of I/I polo from a few elite, Ivy League schools in the 1920’s to the current mix of men's, women's, girls’ and open teams is amazing to see.”

What were the expectations for these tournaments this year?

“Coming out of the pandemic, we have seen both struggles and resurgence for the collegiate teams. In general, the high school programs thrived, because polo was something you could do relatively safely. The same was not true for the college teams, with most programs completely shut down last year and not enough able to compete to hold a tournament. With tournaments in 2020 cancelled as well, there was a lot of anticipation for this season’s events.”

Babson College's Austin Hamilton. ©David Murrell
Babson College's Austin Hamilton on the ball during the Division II National Intercollegiate Championships. ©David Murrell

This year, both Women’s and Men’s had a Division II tournament for the first time. What does this mean?

“2022 is the first year for the Division I/Division II break out in collegiate polo. This concept has been discussed and debated for about 10 years and the pandemic finally gave us a chance to work through the necessary logistics. In prior years, the season-end tournaments were typically dominated by a few teams, leaving a majority of the programs with no chance of advancing beyond the Regional level. A proposal to break out the top teams into a separate division had been floated on and off over the years, but never tested.

This season, we selected seven Men’s and seven Women’s teams to participate in East and West Regionals for Division I. All other collegiate teams competed through the traditional Preliminary and Regional tournament structure to qualify for Division II Nationals.”

Now that the National Intercollegiate Championships are back after two years, what will spectators see?

“While this has been a bit of a recovery year for the college programs, we expect to see a very high level of play in the upcoming tournament in Charlottesville, Virginia. Top teams from across the country have been practicing and preparing for this event with real intensity – particularly after two years away from the NIC!”

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