Oct 04, 2021 6:57 PM
Women’s polo returned to South Carolina for the 14-goal Southeastern Circuit Women’s Challenge at New Bridge Polo & Country Club (Aiken, South Carolina) with the final slated between Mid State Roofing (Robyn Leitner, Brinkley Erb, Reagan Leitner, Hope Arellano*) and Roseland Polo (Connell Erb, Tessa Walton, Summer Kneece, Sophie Grant, sub. Maddie Grant, sub. Kaylin Bender) on Friday, October 1. Playing each other earlier in the tournament, Mid State Roofing claimed the narrow 8.5-8 victory to remain undefeated entering the final. “We tried to get a feel for how they played, get all of our horses played and ready for the final. Basically try a few things and see what we thought would work,” explained Arellano about their previous meeting against Roseland Polo. Demonstrating a well-organized defense that held Roseland Polo scoreless throughout the first three chukkers, Mid State Roofing relied on the impressive performance from Arellano, scoring 10 goals to lead her team to the 11-3.5 victory.
“I believe that our defensive strategy as well as our communication won the game! We really trusted each other and played a very defensive game. We rode onto the field knowing that the next chukker would be tougher than the last, which encouraged us to play even harder.”” – Robyn Leitner
Wasting little time, Arellano scored on the opening play of the game, flipping the ball just inside the post on the nearside to erase Roseland Polo’s 0.5-goal handicap and take the lead. Keeping Roseland Polo on their heels for the remainder of the first chukker, Mid State Roofing were awarded three penalties, leading to three more goals on two Penalty 2 conversions for Arellano and a knocked-down Penalty 4 that was ultimately hit in by Robyn Leitner. Roseland Polo’s offensive struggles carried into the end of the first half as they were unable to convert any of their three attempts at goal but slowed the Mid State Roofing attack. Producing the only goal of the second chukker, Arellano picked up the ball along the boards in her own half and ran nearly the length of the field, racing past the Roseland Polo defender to put her team ahead 5-0.5 entering halftime.
Carrying their momentum into the second half, Mid State Roofing quickly added back-to-back Penalty 2 conversions to extend their lead, leaving Roseland Polo in desperate need of offense. Unfortunately, Roseland Polo ran into a tough Mid State Roofing team that continued to score at a rapid pace. Robyn Leitner broke up a knock-in and deftly stole the ball on a Penalty 5, leading to two more Arellano goals that assured victory with a 9-0.5 lead with one chukker remaining. “Being defensive and disciplined with the man helped us to not foul and allowed us to become open for passes when the opportunity arose,” explained Robyn Leitner. Showing zero quit, Roseland Polo ended their scoring drought with three goals in the fourth chukker, two from Kneece and one from Bender, but Mid State Roofing’s Arellano was at her best, finishing the chukker with two more goals for a total 10 goals to claim the 11-3.5 win.
Displaying a familiarity from years of playing together, Arellano described the intuition the teammates share on the field. “I think what really helped us in the finals and throughout the whole tournament is that the twins [Robyn and Reagan Leitner] and I have played so much together. We played a lot of mixed polo together with my brother Lucas [Arellano] and can literally look at each other and know what the other are going to do. We bring the best out of each other.” The experience from playing together helped Lucas Arellano step into the role of coach and organize Mid State Roofing’s defensive strategy. “Having Lucas sitting there coaching us throughout the whole tournament… it was incredible to have him helping us,” said his sister Hope. “This win really showed our team’s strategic and defensive abilities as we had to shut down really talented and strong girls. We all supported and encouraged each other with every play which boosted our playing potential,” added Reagan Leitner.
Taking advantage of nearly every opportunity throughout the final, Hope Arellano was named Most Valuable Player. “Going into the finals we knew that it was going to be a really tough game and we just went in with the mentality of marking up really hard and trying our best to go man first and then the ball. I think that that was key to our game and everything kind of clicked perfectly on Friday.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Sophie Grant’s fourth chukker 10-year-old chestnut gelding Ace. Originally purchased from Lucas Criado, “As de Espada” nicknamed “Ace” also received the prestigious honor in the 2017 USPA Women’s Arena Open® while playing under Sophie’s sister, and Roseland Polo teammate, Maddie Grant. “He is the most gentle and sweet gelding on the ground, but when he goes on the polo field he knows it’s game time. He has a super smooth canter and is easy to hit the ball off. He’s consistent and a favorite of both Maddie and mine,” said Sophie Grant.
“I think [New Bridge Polo & Country Club] ran the tournament so well. They had four really strong teams and I think it was really amazing for women’s polo here in Aiken!” – Hope Arellano
A relative newcomer to women’s polo, Brinkley Erb was a crucial addition in Mid State Roofing’s success in the front position. “Brinkley was such an incredible addition to our team. She filled the spot perfectly and we had so much fun getting to play with her,” exclaimed Arellano. “I have only played one women’s tournament before this," said Erb reflecting on the experience, "so it’s a big accomplishment for me to step in to such a competitive tournament, much less win it! I had a lot of fun, and I look forward to playing in more women’s tournaments in the future!”
*Hope Arellano is an Active Team USPA Member. 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 ©Alex Pacheco.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More