Story Credit: United States Polo Association. Photos ©Kaylee Wroe Photography.
The featured Sunday match at the stunning Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas, the 2017 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship™ Final took place on Sunday, November 12. An adrenaline-charged game between two incredibly talented teams, spectators were rewarded with five chukkers of full speed back-and-forth play and a white-knuckled overtime victory for San Saba 6-5.
The first title for San Saba with the youngest player in the history of the tournament scoring the golden goal, as well as the first title for Lia Salvo after six years in the competition and three final appearances—San Saba left everything on the field and came out on top.
“To me, I don’t feel like I am on the top of my game just yet. I’ve got so much more to learn and I really appreciated Roberto’s [Gonzalez] help and everybody’s help from this week. I come to Houston every year and I always learn so much in the week that I am here. For all of those girls that are aspiring to go higher and higher, I am still there too. I am still trying to get to the top, and still cannot beat Lia [Salvo], and Wisey [Sarah Wiseman] and Nina [Clarkin] in every tournament, so I am still going to keep working hard”. –Hazel Jackson
First chukker action did not disappoint with wide-open polo as both teams made numerous breakaway runs towards goal. Rocking P Lockton scored first, a beautiful angled backshot goal from Hazel Jackson off a well-placed backshot pass from Kristy Outhier. San Saba would immediately fire back, Lia Salvo capitalizing from the penalty line to equalize the score. A fast-paced and organized chukker for both teams, they would each manage another field goal to end the first tied 2-all.
The remainder of the first half would be marked by several fouls from both sides, slowing down the game. Jackson shot a booming 60-yard penalty, high and through the uprights for Rocking P Lockton, countered by a Penalty 1 for San Saba off a dangerous use of the mallet call that landed Wiseman with a self-proclaimed “bit of a shiner.” A different San Saba team than the previous matchup, a final goal from Dawn Jones would give San Saba the edge going into the half 4-3.
Emotions running high, both teams were awarded a Penalty 3 in the third, which they each easily converted to maintain the gap. Rocking P Lockton trailed by one 5-4 entering the final period, but an expert goal by Jackson out of the bowl-in within the first seconds of play equalized the score 5-all.
The remainder of the chukker played out much like the first, with excellent runs from each team as spectators anxiously awaited the outcome on the edge of their seats. Neither were able to score however, including missed Penalty 4 opportunities from both teams.
Yet, despite San Saba’s scoreless chukker, Lia Salvo impressed in the final minutes of play, going into overdrive, racing up and down field in defense grabbing the ball from all angles—her desire for the win palpable from the sidelines. A near goal by San Saba’s Hope Arellano ended regulation time initiating the overtime chukker.
“This team is amazing, we worked so hard today. Rocking P is a great team and they made it really hard work, but I don’t know what to say, it’s unbelievable!” – Sarah Wiseman
The stakes at an all-time high, San Saba dodged a bullet as a fantastic run by Lottie Lamacraft was picked up by Jackson, but unfortunately kicked out of bounds. The San Saba knock-in would prove the play to take the game, as Wiseman made a pass to Salvo who bolted towards goal. Thwarted by a hook at the last second, Rocking P Lockton backed the ball towards centerfield which was then backed towards goal by Jones and picked up by Arellano for the score—a true team play to finish off the game.
“I was so lucky to be able to score that winning goal, it meant a lot,” said the always humble Arellano smiling from ear to ear. “Having my parents here has been amazing. My mom held a spare and my dad helped coach. It was awesome to have them both here. It was such a great opportunity and I had so much fun.”
Team owner Dawn Jones beamed following the inaugural win for San Saba. “It is a real honor to have the win under the San Saba name,” said Jones. “It is a tiny little town under the ‘X’ in Texas and I know our neighbors are going to be pretty excited about it. Tommy [Lee Jones] and I are really honored to be here; we love the game of polo.
I was happy to be here with Maureen Brennan and Goose Creek a few years ago, but it means so much more under the San Saba name. I have to say again, we all loved Sunny Hale and she was with us last year and would have been on this team today. We all did this for Sunny and it means a lot for San Saba and for Sunny Hale.”
“I am so excited, I have played this tournament for six years and never won it, I am really happy, this is a big day for me. I love coming to Houston. This is the first time I have worn the San Saba shirt and I am really happy with how the team functioned. I think we went from minus to plus. We didn’t start as well as we wanted, but today all of us did our jobs really well.” –Lia Salvo
Most Valuable Player was awarded to Lia Salvo for her unparalleled play leaving everything on the field. Best Playing Pony Amateur was presented to nine-year-old chestnut mare, Chispita owned and ridden by Dawn Jones in the second chukker. Best Playing Pony Professional honors were given to nine-year-old black mare Picasita ridden by Lia Salvo in the second chukker and owned by Dawn Jones.
For the second consecutive year, the high-goal AQHA Top American Quarter Horse was awarded to Law Man’s Reata played and owned by Rocking P Lockton’s Kristy Outhier in the first chukker and presented by Vice President of the American Quarter Horse Association, Dr. Jim Heird.
Rocking P Lockton’s Lamacraft reflected on her first tournament in the United States: “I absolutely love it here in the U.S. it has been amazing. For me personally, all we have in England is 18-goal for ladies and a few international tournaments, so to be able to play at a higher level of ladies’ polo was fantastic.”
When asked why others should come play polo in Houston, she answered simply, “the pitches are great, the horses are amazing and they have great ribs, so if that doesn’t swing you then I don’t really know what else to say!”