Oct 04, 2021 8:04 PM

2021 National Arena Commander In-Chief Champions: Army- Mark Gillespie, Joe England, Amos Peterson, Zak Coleman, presented by Dan Calhoun.
2021 National Arena Commander In-Chief Cup Champions: Army - Major (Ret.) Mark Gillespie, Warrant Officer 2 Joe England, Major Amos Peterson and Private First Class Zak Coleman, presented by Dan Colhoun, Former Pilot Sergeant, USMC.

The fourth edition of the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup featured four branches of the military competing for the coveted bronze trophy at Virginia Polo, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia. Two dominant semifinal victories pitted Army (Private First Class Zak Coleman, Major Amos Peterson, Warrant Officer 2 Joe England, Major (Ret.) Mark Gillespie) against Navy (Petty Officer Alex Jenkins, Lieutenant Commander Sang Yi, Lieutenant Junior Grade Rob DiRado) in the final on Sunday, October 3, with a commanding second half that propelled Army to the 14-9 triumph.

“This tournament is strictly for players currently serving (like myself) or who have served honourably. I am honored to wear the cloth of our Nation and to serve my country. Being able to win this title was incredible.”  – Army's Major Amos Peterson

Navy's Sang Yi, Rob DiRado, Alex Jenkins.
Navy's Lieutenant Commander Sang Yi, Lieutenant Junior Grade Rob DiRado, Petty Officer Alex Jenkins.

Producing nine and 13-goal victories in their respective semifinals, Navy and Army emerged as the top two teams set to battle it out in Sunday’s final. Receiving one goal on handicap, Navy quickly demonstrated a well-rounded team performance that resulted in one goal each from Yi, Jenkins and DiRado in the opening chukker to open up a 4-1 advantage. Army fought back even in the fast-paced second chukker, led by the performance of Coleman, who provided three of his team’s four goals to bring the game even at 5-all entering halftime.

Army's Amos Peterson pushes the ball on a breakaway.
Army's Amos Peterson carries the ball down the arena.

Rotating effectively and displaying the communication and teamwork developed in military service, Army carried their strong first half finish into the third chukker, racing out of the gate to score the first three goals. Bringing a four-man team to the final, Army’s Peterson was the final player to find the scoresheet for his team as Army surged ahead by three. “My teammate Major Amos Peterson and I have very different playing styles and by mixing us into the line up in the final match it threw off the Navy’s defensive strategy,” stated Gillespie. Peterson reflected of Army’s strategy, “we failed to convert on a number of balls in the mouth of the goal early in the match, however, with communication and working together as a team we were able to finally build some momentum and shut down Navy’s attack.”

Navy re-organized and it took one swing of the mallet from Jenkins to convert a two-point goal and bring the deficit to just one goal entering the final chukker. Tensions rose in the closely-contested final after Jenkins tied the score 9-all with his fifth goal of the game to open the fourth chukker. Undeterred, Army turned to their youngest member Coleman in the final moments to control possession and score six consecutive goals to end the game and raise the trophy with a 14-9 victory.

Navy's Alex Jenkins places the hook on Army's Joe England.
Army's Joe England makes the hook on Navy's Alex Jenkins riding Best Playing Pony Federico.

With the victory, Army became the first two-time winner of the National Arena Commander-in-Chief Cup after winning the inaugural event in 2018. Peterson expressed the honor of competing alongside fellow military branches, “we faced some very stiff competition and quality players in the championship match, but it was a tremendous opportunity to build comradery amongst both active duty and retiree polo players.”

Headlining Army’s string of goals in the final chukker, Zak Coleman was awarded Most Valuable Player. “Since I just joined the Army a little more than one year ago, I was definitely the player with the least seniority,” described Coleman. Looking forward to the future, Coleman continued by saying, “since I won the tournament and MVP in my first year, I hope that goes to show how much I am ready to give Army and Military Polo for years to come.”

Army's Zac Coleman taps the ball ahead of Navy's Sang Yi.
Army's Zac Coleman taps the ball ahead of Navy's Sang Yi.

“The key was our determination and pride in our branch with great teamwork on backshots and mitigating the damage Alex [Jenkins] could do in the fourth that led us to rallying and winning like a good Army team should!””  – Private First Class Zak Coleman

Held in a split-string format, each team competed with both strings to provide an even playing field. Competing with Navy in the second chukker, it was the fourth chukker performance of Federico, owned by Virginia Polo, under Coleman that contributed to his Best Playing Pony award. The 21-year-old bay gelding is a legend within the University of Virginia polo team, recently moving from the men’s to women’s intercollegiate string. “We had a bit of a slow start, but he helped me turn it on in the fourth. Honestly don’t think we would’ve won the game without him,” exclaimed Coleman. Peterson echoed this statement, “we were able to get some terrific ponies in the final chukker. UVA did a tremendous job providing the strings for the matches, outstanding facility and horses!”

Army's Zac Coleman riding Best Playing Pony Federico in the fourth chukker, blazes ahead of Navy defenders.
Army's Zac Coleman riding Best Playing Pony Federico in the fourth chukker, dodges Navy defenders.

Recently competing in the USPA Women’s Arena Open®, Federico was described as a total machine by Maddie Grant, a statement echoed by Coleman. “His turning and acceleration is phenomenal, allowing me to meet plays and burst out of plays that I normally couldn’t get to. [UVA intercollegiate player] Jack McLean said he’s one of their best horses and he certainly played like it.”

All photos courtesy of ©Oana Moore.