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UC-DAVIS' TEAMWORK EARNS FIP TRIP OF A LIFETIME

Nov 22, 2022 9:09 PM

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University of California (UC-Davis) I/I grand prize winners attend the XII FIP World Polo Championship on U.S. Assn Field One at National Polo Center - Wellington. ©David Lominska
University of California-Davisx I/I grand prize winners attend the XII FIP World Polo Championship on U.S. Assn Field One at the National Polo Center - Wellington. ©David Lominska

In late August, the Intercollegiate/Interscholastic (I/I) program announced a contest to win a trip to the FIP World Polo Championship at the National Polo Center – Wellington (Wellington, Florida) for one lucky college or university team. The competition, run primarily through social media, tasked teams with weekly challenges which were posted on Facebook or Instagram. Topics and assignments, which flooded social platforms, included I/I spirit, the “tiki challenge,” and sharing favorite I/I polo ponies. “The I/I program wanted to help spark enthusiasm around the USPA hosting the FIP World Polo Championship and support the efforts of USPA Global Licensing, who is a strong supporter of I/I teams,” said Director of I/I Polo Amy Fraser. “The competition also coincided nicely with the start of the I/I season to generate a lot of social media content highlighting intercollegiate programs,” she continued.

“Because we're such a new team, we wanted to make a super strong social media presence and we're happy that our voices were heard.”  – Maya Tantuwaya

In the finale of the nearly month-long event, widdled down to four teams, each regional winner was challenged to write an essay about what I/I polo means to them. The University of California - Davis collected the Grand Prize, but not leaving empty handed, the other three regional winners (the University of Connecticut, University of South Carolina – Aiken and Trinity) received $500 gift cards to polo tack/equine stores of their choice. “The regional structure of the competition, made it attainable for multiple teams to earn prizes, which were gift cards to their tack store of choice, so the funds all went back into supporting the individual programs,” Fraser recounted.

Collecting swag bags following a tour of the U.S. Polo Assn. design office. ©Maya Tantuwaya
Collecting swag bags following a tour of the U.S. Polo Assn. design office. ©Maya Tantuwaya

“UC-Davis’ essay stood out. It was very well written, fun to read and you could really feel the essence and thrill of I/I polo through the eyes of the players,” said Fraser. The Grand Prize included VIP tickets to the FIP World Polo Championship Opening Ceremony and USA vs. Australia match, a training session at Palm City Polo Club (Boynton Beach, Florida), a trip to the U.S. Polo Assn. design offices along with welcome swag bags and merch. The once-in-a-lifetime prize also covered the cost of airfare, lodging, a rental car and food. Incredibly pleased with the result of the contest, Fraser continued, “Very similar to an ‘Instagram giveaway,’ the social media outreach that was generated, not only for the I/I program as a whole, but also for individual programs, was priceless. Teams were able to promote themselves to a wide audience and we were able to capture great content from the source about the importance of the I/I program.”

MEET THE CALIFORNIA AGGIES

UC-Davis- Marisa Carelli, Maya Tantuwaya, Liliana Gonzalez, Franchesca Johannsen. ©David Murrell
UC-Davis- Marisa Carelli, Maya Tantuwaya, Liliana Gonzalez, Franchesca Johannsen. ©David Murrell

Bringing an entire entourage east-bound to sunny South Florida, the UC-Davis women and Coach Bonnie Magill made the most of their weekend getaway, experiencing and documenting polo at its finest (all of which can be viewed on the team’s Facebook page).

Aggie Polo Club at UC-Davis located in Yuba City, California, was recently revived in 2021 after 11 years of inactivity. Managed by three former interscholastic polo players and coached by UC-Davis Polo alumna Magill (2022 I/I Service Award recipient), the newly formed team qualified for the Division II Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship (NIC) in their first year returning to competition. “We went into our regionals not really knowing what to expect because we are a brand-new team,” said Marisa Carelli, discussing how it felt to win their Western Regional and advance to the Division II Women’s NIC last spring. “It was absolutely incredible. We managed to pull it off and it was just the most amazing feeling because I have teammates that I really trust, and we play really well together. So, to be able to make it and go there was just surreal,” she continued. With the goal of making polo accessible to those in the UC-Davis community, the club is eager to continue down the successful path they have already begun to forge.

“We went into our regionals not really knowing what to expect because we are a brand-new team, it was absolutely incredible. We managed to pull it off and it was just the most amazing feeling”  – Marisa Carelli

A brand-new opportunity, both rare and unique, Magill encouraged the team to participate in the competition. The UC-Davis women put their heads together to create fun, captivating content every week, all of which continuously caught the attention of the judges. Maya Tantuwaya, who manages the team’s social media account, explained how the brainstorming process was not only a group effort, but a task that the whole team enjoyed. “I was in charge of social media, and we all contributed ideas and had a blast making all of those posts and planning all the essay ideas. Especially because we're such a new team, we wanted to make a super strong social media presence and we're happy that our voices were heard.”

UC-Davis' Maya Tantuwaya hitting a half shot with SMU's Grace Grotnik following ©David Murrell
UC-Davis' Maya Tantuwaya in action during the Division II Women’s National Intercollegiate Championship. ©David Murrell

As they moved into the final round, rather than write their essay on well-known I/I ideologies such as dedication, responsibility, team leadership and lifelong friends, the team went in a different direction. Instead, they detailed their hard-fought, unwavering quest to breathe life back into the intercollegiate program at UC-Davis with the steadfast support of Magill. Surprised, but incredibly moved, Magill shared, “My husband read it and said, ‘Oh this is a tearjerker.’ It was so sad and happy at the same time.”

Relaying the story of a rag-tag team, the essay took readers on a journey from the start of the club’s resurrection all the way to the Women’s Intercollegiate Western Regional Championship. The team powerfully wrote, “Five months ago, there hadn’t been a UC-Davis team. The idea of representing the school [we] called home in the intercollegiate polo league sounded grand, but after a 12-year hiatus, UC-Davis intercollegiate polo was no more than three young women and our no-nonsense coach. Playing polo in Aggie colors seemed light years away. We were a polo team with no horses, no tack, and no funding.”

Quickly learning the beauty of I/I polo, the Aggies found help where they least expected it. “My teammates and I quickly learned that intercollegiate polo transcends generations. Soon our inbox was flooded with eager congratulations from alumni.[…] Generous donations of money and more horses and tack quickly joined the words of encouragement. Armed with these resources, we took up the dream of a strong intercollegiate polo program as our own.”

Recounting the long days, tireless work and immense amount of effort that went into creating this intercollegiate success story, the essay ended on high note, praising those who believed in them, namely their coach, even when their program was just resurfacing. “We made our mark in the tradition of UC-Davis intercollegiate polo that afternoon, guided and supported by UC-Davis players from decades past, including one who stood beside us as our indomitable coach. On the podium, we hoisted the trophy aloft and pretended not to see the tears of Bonnie, who believed in three young women, a wheelbarrow of donations, and the spirit of intercollegiate polo.”

In their spare time the team took to the Everglades to search for alligators. ©Dr. Melinda Newton
In their spare time the team took to the Everglades in search of alligators. ©Dr. Melinda Newton

Fawning over their Wellington experience, Gonzalez detailed their trip, explaining, “It’s been a whirlwind since we got here. We took a red eye; I don't think we slept more than 45 minutes! We got here, we got out of the airport, and just [went] onto the shops. [We went to] see all these beautiful ranches and barns. It's crazy to be here, it's just been go, go, go. And we've been enjoying every moment of it!” Bisogni added, “We had so much fun visiting the U.S. Polo Assn. offices and actually seeing where everything comes from.”

Also appreciating the opportunity to participate in a clinic at Palm City Polo Club (Boynton Beach, Florida) on Saturday morning before the USA game, Tantuwaya added, “It was awesome. They did a great job. They helped us all out with our swing and then we got to play some chukkers, so it was super cool.”

Palm City Polo's Joey helps Lili Gonzalez with her swing. ©Maya Tantuwaya
Palm City Polo's Joey Casey coaches Lili Gonzalez on her swing. ©Maya Tantuwaya

With a bright future in store, Magill explained that the West Coast team is even stronger than they were last year. With two players in their senior year and about to graduate, the program is working on building a legacy and focusing on recruitment to ensure the longevity of the club. In jumpstarting the program, Magill told the team, “Don’t just build this club and then let it die.” Luckily, with such a group of dedicated and driven women, Magill doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. “They're all so into it. They know they have to set things up for more.”

Those interested in learning more about Aggie Polo Club at UC-Davis can visit their website below or reach out to Club President Maya Tantuwaya at aggiepoloclubucd@gmail.com.

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