With the fresh memories of a disappointing defeat in the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship Final, BTA/The Villages (Kylie Sheehan, Paige Boone, KC Krueger and Tiffany Busch) turned the narrow loss into motivation headed into the 2021 rematch against two-time defending champions Hawaii Polo Life (Dolores Onetto, Pamela Flanagan, Mia Cambiaso and Hazel Jackson).
Once again emerging as the two strongest teams in the tournament with undefeated 3-0 records, the finalists met on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach on Saturday, March 20. Locked in a tie after three chukkers of play, the teams pushed the game down to the wire with Boone claiming the game-winning neckshot in the last minute of regulation. Preventing Hawaii Polo Life from sealing a historical three-peat victory, BTA/The Villages grabbed the championship by a final score of 6-5.
Making every second count, Jackson fired a neckshot from distance to score a goal for Hawaii Polo Life within the first 30 seconds of play. Proving her accuracy from the penalty line in the previous final, Krueger stepped up and converted a Penalty 2 to match the scoreboard and end the chukker.
Trading goals with Jackson in the second chukker, BTA/The Villages relied on the teammates to be in the right position to finish off shots on goal. “The strategy was just to be really disciplined with Hazel and Mia, especially when they were away from the ball, because they are so well mounted,” BTA/The Villages coach Tommy Biddle said. “Hazel has very good game sense, so the team tried to put pressure on her away from the ball and force her to work for every play she made.”
Picking up her first goal of the day, Sheehan carried Busch’s shot through the goal posts on the nearside, but was quickly countered by Hawaii Polo Life’s strong drive to goal with an assist from Flanagan. Giving the ball the final push needed to reach goal, Boone contributed to the scoreboard and tied the game at halftime 3-3. “We came into the final with a game plan, but it was about having intensity, high energy and just being disciplined, and it paid off for us,” Boone said.
Hawaii Polo Life opened the second half with a complete team effort, Flanagan making a quick backshot to save the ball, setting up Cambiaso, who scored her first goal of the day. Taking advantage of penalty opportunities, Krueger leveled the playing field for the third time with another Penalty 2 conversion. As the pressure mounted headed into the fourth chukker, every second became even more critical as Krueger added a third Penalty 2 to the tally. Retrieving the ball lodged in a divot, Jackson scored her fourth goal and equalized the score 5-5 with only a few minutes before the final horn. Boldly going for the goal with now under a minute remaining, BTA/The Villages’ Boone gained possession off a pass from Busch and made a powerful neckshot, sealing the well-deserved victory 6-5.
“Tommy told us before we went into the final chukker, ‘You worked really hard to get here, you’re tied and this is your time. So if you want it bad enough, go and get it.’ And we did,” Boone said.
As the only all-American team in the tournament, BTA/The Villages was especially proud to win the most prestigious cup in women’s polo in the United States. “Having a team of four local players made the win that much more special because we showed them what we can do,” Sheehan said. “We’re all playing our own horses and run our own organizations. I think it’s very exciting for American polo going forward, and I know a ton of amazing up-and-coming American players, so I’m hoping to see more all-American teams.”
Taking on a fierce opponent in Hawaii Polo Life, BTA/The Villages’ commitment and positive attitudes eventually paid off with the trophy.
“This win means the world, to be able to go 4-0 in a 22-goal tournament like this just goes to show you how deep we can go as a team,” Busch said. “We’ve had our opportunities in the past, and the beautiful thing about this team is we all just played as one and nobody gave up.”
Bringing in a coach for the first time, BTA/The Villages gained so much from having the expertise of Biddle. “Tommy’s such an experienced player, and he has so much knowledge about the game,” Sheehan said. “He kept us level-headed and gave us very simple tasks. Between chukkers, he broke it down for us, and I think that’s what gave us the edge today.”
BTA/The Villages’ Kylie Sheehan was named Most Valuable Player. “This is definitely the most exciting win of my career!” Sheehan exclaimed. “I’ve never played on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1, and I’ve only played at International Polo Club Palm Beach once during the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship Final. We came back today really hungry, and we felt really confident.”
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to El Pico, played by Mia Cambiaso in the third chukker. “He’s amazing and easy to play, and I also played him in the 2020 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship Final,” Cambiaso said. “My father [Adolfo Cambiaso] lent him to me. We recently bought him from Lindor Novillo.”
Located in different parts of the state between south and central Florida, BTA/The Villages often utilized the convenience of Zoom for team meetings. “It was a true COVID-19 win that way,” Sheehan said.
Despite limited attendance due to club protocols, BTA/The Villages’ friends and family kept the players energized and in good spirits throughout the game. “The cheering was great. It really motivates you, especially during the times we were down by a goal,” Boone said. “They’re screaming when you’re coming to change horses, and it just lifts you up when you’re riding back onto the field.”
Representing Flying Cow, Houston, The Villages and Vero Beach polo clubs, the women of BTA/The Villages are an example of hard-working athletes working together and persevering to achieve a common goal.
“We don’t travel the world and play polo; we run polo schools and clubs here in the U.S.” Krueger said. “I think it’s a little more challenging for us, but we can come together and play with the best players in the world.”