Story United States Polo Association, All Photos © Elizabeth Hedley.
On Saturday, April 9, The University of Virginia (UVA) and Texas A&M women’s teams mounted up at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, ready to fight for the USPA National Intercollegiate Championship (NIC) title.
UVA, represented by Katie Mitcham, Jessica Schmitt, and graduating seniors Mary Collins and Julia Smith*, with coach Lou Lopez, defeated Texas A&M, represented by Kendall Plank, Taylor Smith, Alexandra Vaughn, Marissa Wells* and coach Mike McCleary. A rematch of the 2016 NIC Semifinal when Texas A&M narrowly defeated UVA, the rivalry showdown was destined to be a battle from the start.
Texas A&M’s Wells scored two unanswered goals in the first chukker to gain an early lead. Determined not to let Texas A&M run away with the trophy, UVA’s Smith retaliated with four consecutive goals in the first three minutes of the second chukker to take the lead 4-2. Wells countered with a strong 40-yard shot down the arena to score, but UVA doubled their lead with two more goals from Smith and Collins to end the half 6-3.
Smith capitalized on two penalty conversions early in the third to put UVA ahead by five halfway through the chukker. Texas A&M fought hard for the remainder of the period, playing a strong defensive game in addition to putting one more goal on the board. The chukker ended in favor of UVA 8-4.
Despite trailing by four, Texas A&M was certainly not ready to give up. An unwavering Wells determined to make up the deficit scored early in the final chukker. She then carried the ball down the arena but was fouled directly in front of goal.
Texas A&M was awarded a penalty 1 which brought them within two 8-6. A clash of the two powerhouse players Smith and Wells ensued as the clock wound down, each contributing a closing goal for their team to end the game with a final score 9-7.
Smith was the game high-scorer, contributing eight of UVA’s nine total goals, while Wells followed singlehandedly scoring all seven of Texas A&M’s goals; both were named to the All-Star team.
“It’s nice to go out with a bang” said graduating senior Smith, “it’s such an honor to play alongside these girls and win. We worked so hard throughout the entire year, so it’s very nice to see that hard work pays off.”
UVA’s win marks their ninth championship title and fifth under the direction of coach Lou Lopez.
“These women were awesome today,” he remarked. “This was a great match from the second the ball was thrown in until the last buzzer. The women fought very very hard and I’m very proud of them.”
Roger Williams University Garner First National Championship In Double Overtime Penalty Shootout
The weeklong NIC culminated in the historic final match between Roger Williams University (RWU) and Southern Methodist University (SMU). An electrifying game due to the fast-paced, high-level of polo, each team was eager to make their mark in intercollegiate polo history.
RWU players Pedro Cabrera, George Hempt, Daymar Rosser and coach Ted Torrey faced off against SMU’s Michael Armour, Barrett Coke, Manual Ituarte, Maxi Longlois, JT Shiverick, Ramon de la Torre and coach Tom Goodspeed.
The teams set the tone for the game early on by keeping the score close, trading goals throughout the first chukker for a 4-all tied score. In the second, both teams displayed remarkable athleticism and ball handling skills while playing a tight defensive game. Each team scored two additional goals and the standoff continued 6-all at halftime.
RWU came alive in the third, pulling ahead by three goals halfway through the period, one by Cabrera and two from Hempt. SMU’s Shiverick converted a penalty 2 but the team had difficulty defensively allowing another RWU goal, this time from Rosser, before the final period.
The score 10-7 in favor of RWU, it was anyone’s game in the final chukker. The teams initially traded goals to maintain the gap, but back-to-back SMU goals chipped away at the deficit to bring them within one. Less than 30 seconds remaining, SMU was awarded a crucial penalty 2, Shiverick coolly scored to send the game into overtime.
The teams tied in the first round of the shootout which sent the game into double overtime. In round two, both Rosser and Hempt of RWU converted their penalties while SMU converted a solitary goal. This ended the game with a final score 12-11.
RWU, founded in 2014, valiantly captured the national title after two grueling rounds of penalty shootouts in what was described by many as one of the most captivating games of the week.
Hempt and Shiverick shared the game high-scorer accolade with six each on the day. Shiverick was also named the tournament high-scorer with a whopping sixteen total goals in two games.
Rosser, an Interscholastic National Champion from the renowned Philadephia-based Work to Ride program was speechless after his win.
“It is an honor to be here. I am still taking this moment in. In a couple of hours I think it will set in that I am a National Intercollegiate Champion!”
When asked what he thought about the finals games, USPA CEO Duncan Huyler said,
“Incredible polo today. This is a fantastic venue and we saw some tremendous sportsmanship.”
Best Playing Pony of the NIC Men’s Final was awarded to Jaguar owned by George Dill. Best Playing Pony of the NIC Women’s Final was presented to Pablo owned by Jeff Scheraga. Best Playing Strings went to Julie Empey (women’s) and Santos Arriola (men’s).
The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Cal Poly’s Leah Torres and SMU’s JT Shiverick.
Men’s All Stars: Christian Aycinena (Texas A&M), Ignacio Masias (Cornell), George Hempt (RWU), JT Shiverick (SMU).
Women’s All Stars: Marissa Wells (Texas A&M), Mary Collins (UVA), Julia Smith (UVA) and Carly Persano (UCONN).
*Julia Smith and Marissa Wells are members of Team USPA. 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.