Mar 20, 2022 3:41 AM
Securing an undefeated 3-0 record in bracket play, Hawaii Polo Life’s (Cecily Coors, Pamela Flanagan, Mia Cambiaso, Hazel Jackson) dominant and unified play landed them back into finals contention in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® for the fourth consecutive year (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022). Presented by Eastern Hay and Icon Source, benefiting Susan G. Komen and hosted by Port Mayaca Polo Club (PMPC) in Okeechobee, Florida, and International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida, Hawaii Polo Life’s (HPL) talented roster of premiere athletes took to the celebrated U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 at IPC against a skillful and prepared opponent in Blue Water (Sophie Grant*, Kylie Sheehan*, Izzy Parsons, Meghan Shader-Jumet*).
Previously topping Blue Water 5-4 in bracket play, a determined Hawaii Polo Life utilized the experience and dynamism of Jackson and Cambiaso to assert early dominance. Showcasing defensive prowess over Blue Water throughout the rematch, combined with offensive contributions from each HPL teammate, the unstoppable power of Hawaii Polo Life’s attack on both sides of the ball resulted in a resounding 8-3 title victory and for the first time in U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® history, $30,000 in coveted prize money.
“It means a lot to me; it’s more than just winning individually. I feel the whole sport is winning the way we were able to exhibit the game today.” – Pamela Flanagan
Reworking their roster with new edition Cecily Coors following a heartbreaking final loss in 2021 to BTA/The Villages, Hawaii Polo Life approached their chance at redemption with a unified strategy and a healthy respect for their Blue Water counterpart. Facing off not only in a preliminary game of the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®, Hawaii Polo Life and Blue Water also had prior experience meeting in the 22-goal Tabebuia Cup at PMPC.
Pamela Flanagan had nothing but praise for Blue Water, “I’m so glad they made it to the final because they hustled to put that team together. The amount of effort was equal to, if not more to the effort that went into our team. I’m really proud of those women for putting it together last minute, getting sponsors on board, and getting outside sponsors involved. And I’m blown away by Izzy [Parsons], the way she rides and captains her team, she’s so quick.”
Jackson also spoke to Blue Water’s competitive resolve, “Izzy’s [Parsons] a very strong force, and Sophie Grant caught my attention this whole tournament. She’s solid and really effective on the field. Their dynamic is tough, we came into today knowing it was going to be difficult. The main thing was to get our positions [established] and win the field early.”
Laying down the foundation to win the field early for Hawaii Polo Life was accomplished in the opening chukker on a quick pass from Jackson to Cambiaso. Entering the final with a combined twenty-two goals, the assertiveness of Jackson and Cambiaso kicked off an impressive run of six Hawaii Polo Life goals, with five coming in open play. Relaying the importance of facilitating the ball to Hawaii Polo Life’s leading scorers, Flanagan shared, “Hazel [Jackson] and Mia [Cambiaso] together as a duo make a lot of time and space for each other. If I could be disciplined enough to stay with Izzy [Parsons], it would allow the girls [Jackson and Cambiaso] to maneuver. The key for us—is we all had our jobs and were able to execute as planned. It’s easier said than done, but today we were able to do it.”
Following a Penalty 2 conversion for Jackson, a driving Flanagan escaped her defensive coverage riding palomino stallion Dolfina Jordie and found the posts to take an early 4-0 lead. “Holding Izzy [Parsons] off long enough put me in the right position because she was playing zone back and it kept me forward,” elaborated Flanagan. Two more goals off the mallet of Cambiaso increased Hawaii Polo Life’s lead to six goals, where a Penalty 2 conversion from Parsons accounted for Blue Water’s only offense in the first half, as Hawaii Polo Life took a commanding 6-1 lead into halftime.
Adding Cecily Coors to Hawaii Polo Life’s roster brought an injection of unbridled energy and eagerness to learn onto the established team. With a background in grand prix show jumping, Coors made the switch to polo only a year-and a half ago. Hailing from Denver Polo Club (Denver, Colorado), Coors sought coaching and assistance in her early development from Erica Gandomcar-Sachs, Cecilia Cochran, and Jason Wates.
Progressing at a quick rate, Flanagan knew Coors could be an invaluable asset to Hawaii Polo Life, “I knew she was a really strong rider from her horse background. If things are getting stressful on the field, [instead] of shutting down, it builds her up. The more intense the game and the closer we are, the more she’s pumped and trying to do her job. She’s got this intensity about her. She’s not intimidated by other players. We’re putting her up against 5, 6-goal players and she is taking them out. She had Dardo’s [Iglesias] horses, which were a great fit—safe, easy, and super competitive. I think the combination of playing with Erica [Gandomcar-Sachs] all summer, having the equestrian background, the right horses, and the organization of Cecilia [Cochran] and Jason [Wates] really helped her to get where she is today.” Cambiaso also commented on the importance of adding a fresh teammate into the mix, “Cecily [Coors] is amazing! She plays very well and brings good vibes [to the team].”
With three of Hawaii Polo Life’s teammates already on the scoreboard, the fourth chukker was Coors’ time to shine. “Hazel Jackson talks about doing your 25%,” explained Coors. “Making sure you’re taking your man and doing your job, so the rest of the team can succeed. That takes the pressure off, if I’m only doing my job and not thinking about three other jobs that are out there too. Just focusing on that 25% gets your head in the game.” Receiving a skilled pass from captain Jackson, Coors made the most of her opportunity and took the ball straight to the goal for her first goal of the tournament and biggest career accomplishment to date.
“I’ve dreamt about that on repeat,” stated Coors. “I would wake up and say, ‘if I could get a goal in this tournament, it would mean so much.’ I had a chance earlier in the game and missed. After I got back to the tent during halftime I said, ‘if I get a chance again, I’m not missing.’ Even in the tent, I was practicing my swing.” Coors continued, “I got out there and Hazel [Jackson] passed up to me and I thought, ‘the ball is here, what is going on?’ I tapped it three times and luckily through the goal. It’s the best feeling in the whole world, that’s what makes [polo] addicting, to have something go up on the board because of your contribution. The rest of my team was doing all the hard work, they were the one’s blocking for me.”
Carrying a dominant 7-1 lead into the final chukker of play, Jackson struck again from distance for her third goal of the game. Roommates for the winter season, Flanagan shared how her bond with Jackson has grown her abilities as a competitor, “she’s an incredible polo player, but she is a professional to the core. She hits the gym every day, is super healthy in the way she operates, and is watching film repeatedly.” Flanagan noted, “If there’s something she needs to fix, she says to herself, ‘Okay, I’m going to watch the 22-goal and see how they do it. Let’s watch Adolfo [Cambiaso] do this.’ She’s constantly studying the game and being able to spend so much time with her, I’ve been able to study and learn just how professional she is. I’m so impressed by Hazel Jackson.”
Bonding on-and-off the field, Flanagan also shared the time they’ve been able to spend strengthening their friendship, “we’ve become good buds, and we’ve gone out a few times to celebrate birthdays. It was my sister’s birthday, and we went to the [Miami] Heat game and a few activities after that. I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to live with her the past month.”
“Hazel Jackson talks about doing your 25%. Making sure you’re taking your man and doing your job, so the rest of the team can succeed.” – Cecily Coors
With Hawaii Polo Life holding firm to a six-goal advantage opening the final chukker of play, Blue Water displayed incredible resolve to keep generating chances. Struggling on offense due to their efforts to keep their defensive play tight keeping Cambiaso and Jackson close, Blue Water finally got a break with a penalty conversion from Sheehan tapping in her first goal of the day on a Penalty 2. Team captain Parsons found the posts for Blue Water’s first field goal of the day, cutting the deficit to five goals. Despite Blue Water’s grit and determination, the complete Hawaii Polo Life takeover was too much to overcome, as Hawaii Polo Life returned to U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® glory in an outstanding team effort to reclaim the heralded title 8-3.
Two-time U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® (2019, 2020) champion Flanagan revealed what adding a third title meant for her, “it means everything. We’ve been planning this for over a year now. It was a great, open game; the umpiring was wonderful.” With only three penalty goals combined between the two teams in the final, the majority of play was determined on the field, which Jackson was grateful for, “the umpires let us play a little more in the semifinals and the final. I really hope to see that more in the future in the game of ladies’ polo. We don’t hit as hard as men, we’re not as quick as men, so you need to let us play a little bit more.”
Relying on each other has been a theme for Hawaii Polo Life throughout the season, as Flanagan continues to be humbled by her opportunity to compete and win the most profound tournament in women’s polo. “I’m super proud, but I’m still in shock!” Flanagan stated, “the fact I get to play with Mia Cambiaso and Hazel Jackson, that won’t sink in until two weeks from now and I get to look back and think, ‘wow, what an incredible moment.’ Right now, I’m just on a high from the win, it’s hard to express.”
Similarly, Coors also needed time to process the impact of competing and winning her first U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®, “It’s surreal,” noted Coors. “It’s such a confidence booster going into this reflecting on how much my team, and I have put into it. To get here there have been an unbelievable amount of people. Whether it’s the grooms, the veterinarians, the coaches, and everybody who’s a part of the ecosystem—has come together to make this happen. It’s a recognition of all that work, when you have everyone working together, there can be a pinnacle moment, and I still can’t believe it.”
Taking her extensive show jumping knowledge into her latest polo adventure, Coors also elaborated on the difference between the two sports, “in [jumping] you’re out there and doing your own thing. Here you get basically sixty minutes out there, versus two minutes. Being out here in Wellington, it’s incredible to be surrounded by such incredible players. [Polo] is such a fun sport because there’s much more of a sense of camaraderie, on and off the field people are smiling and care so much about the horses. I can’t tell you how nice everyone’s been and how many friends I’ve made.” Noting the growth she’s experienced as a member of Hawaii Polo Life, Coors expressed, “To get thrown in the fire, it’s been unbelievably helpful. I’ve learned more in this tournament than ever, no matter what type of riding I’ve done.”
Fearlessly leading her team on both sides of the ball, including scoring three goals in the final, 10-goaler Hazel Jackson was named Most Valuable Player. “It means a lot. I’ve won the [U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®] at Houston Polo Club [in 2017 in Houston, Texas], but I haven’t won it here. Crediting her teammates for their strident efforts, Jackson continued, “Pamela [Flanagan] did an incredible job on Izzy [Parsons]. Mia [Cambiaso] and I started making some plays where one [of us] would go up, and one would stay back, we kept it moving. We blocked for Cecily [Coors] to make the goal, we blocked for Pam [Flanagan] to make the goal. All of us got goals, I think that speaks a lot.”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Fax Bionica (Nomade x Bienvenida), an 11-year-old black mare played by Mia Cambiaso in the first chukker and owned by J5 Equestrian and La Dolfina. “She is tremendous,” noted Cambiaso, “she’s playing with my brother [Poroto Cambiaso] in the GAUNTLET and he lent her to me.”
Having tremendous horsepower behind Hawaii Polo Life was a benefit to all the talented riders on the team, “it’s absolutely crazy for me to be riding these horses,” said Jackson. Playing three La Dolfina horses in the tournament, Jackson continued, “I can do different things on the field, which I couldn’t before. I’ve never run that fast in my life! It’s too fast for me! You have to stop riding sensitive because they just go! I’ve been riding these horses for the past three games, and it’s taken me a while to get used to them, but I love it! To have this option from J5 Equestrian, Chris Dawson, and the Cambiaso’s, it lets you do your thing.”
For the all the recent success of Hawaii Polo Life, Flanagan has never lost sight of the mission to continue developing and expanding competitive women’s polo, “We’re trying to elevate women’s polo, get prize money, secure our place on [U.S. Polo Assn.] Field 1, and make the best presentation of the sport possible. I think we were able to do that successfully today. I feel the sport is winning. Not just [Hawaii Polo Life] but women’s polo with the way we were able to exhibit the game today.” Regarding the next steps for the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®, Jackson hopes to see the competition level continue to increase, “we had a meeting the other day about lifting the handicap to 24-goals,” shared Jackson, “the teams and the women are improving each year. The American girls are improving each year.”
With little time to celebrate Jackson will board a plane for Argentina to continue playing in the Masters, a 0-40 goal ladies tournament played on handicap. Following the Masters, Jackson will return to England to compete with UAE in the summer. For Coors who just turned twenty-one, she is ready to toast her U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship® victory, but is keeping her important recruiting mission in mind, “I’ve told my jumper friends, come ride with me, come join me. I’m hoping to get more [jumpers] converted!”
*Sophie Grant is an Active Team USPA member. Kylie Sheehan and Meghan Shader-Jumet are Team USPA alumna. 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 Lominska.
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