Buena Vibra Captures U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship

The 2024 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship winners Buena Vibra (Valentina Tarazona, Cory Williams, Clara Seppe and Milly Hine) claim the trophy. Photo by David Lominska

Following two weeks of high-goal competition at the Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee, and a postponed final, the delayed conclusion of the 2024 U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship, presented by the Brad and Kathy Coors Foundation, came to a close on Friday, Feb. 23 at the National Polo Center in Wellington.

The final of the most prestigious women’s polo tournament in the United States welcomed 90210 Polo (Mia Cambiaso, Meghan Gracida, Catalina Lavinia and Winifred Branscum) and first-time competitors Buena Vibra (Milly Hine, Clara Seppe, Cory Williams and Valentina Tarazona) to U.S. Polo Assn. Field One to battle for $25,000 in prize money.

A game decided primarily from the penalty line, Buena Vibra’s Hine converted nine times to grant the ladies in hot pink the upper hand. Despite 90210 Polo’s Cambiaso posting two points off penalties in the fifth chukker to steal the lead, Buena Vibra proved unstoppable, with Hine and Seppe securing another three goals to defeat 90210 Polo in the final chukker, 13-11.

The road to the podium was full of twists and turns for Buena Vibra. The team lost to La Fe (Naomi Tachibana Marlough, Hanan Fadil, Hope Arellano and Hazel Jackson) in the USPA-sanctioned warm-up tournament for the Open hosted by Port Mayaca Polo Club.

“I think, if anything, that loss actually helped us,” Williams said. “We knew what we had to fix and went into it again knowing we could play our best… If we played better than we played in that, then it would be a win in our books.”

Two weeks later, Buena Vibra and La Fe met again in the semifinals. This time, they won, and Buena Vibra qualified for the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship final for the first time. “They’re a really tough team, so it felt amazing to come out on top,” Williams said.

Originally slated for Sunday, Feb. 18 at NPC, the final was rescheduled to Friday, Feb. 23, due to torrential rainstorms that flooded the polo fields. Finalists were forced to re-strategize and prepare themselves to play again five days later. Feeling prepared to face 90210 Polo, Friday morning brought one more surprise; their opponents had a last-minute roster change, substituting Winifred Branscum for Sarah Siegel-Magness. Both Branscum and Cambiaso have won the tournament before, and Buena Vibra was facing an even more formidable opponent.

Branscum scored the first goal of the game to put 90210 on the board. In the first and second chukkers, Buena Vibra took control from the penalty line with five conversions from Hine. 90210’s Lavinia and Cambiaso scored a combined three field goals before the end of the first half, with a conversion from Cambiaso in the third to bring the score to 6-5 in favor of Buena Vibra at halftime.

“It’s super difficult to compete against this level of horses on a field like this, against such a huge organization like La Dolfina and 90210,” Hine said.

“You need to be very organized with horses and have a good strategy and do team meetings to be well prepared,” Seppe added.

90210 Polo was coached by Mia’s father and brother, 10-goalers Adolfo and Poroto Cambiaso, while Buena Vibra was coached by Seppe’s boyfriend, 7-goaler Toly Ulloa, younger brother of 10-goaler Hilario Ulloa.

Returning for the second half with renewed vigor, 90210 picked up three goals early in the fourth chukker, including a field goal from Gracida, her first on the day. Hine remained steadfast from the penalty line, knocking in two more for Buena Vibra to tie the score 8-8 moving into the fifth. Another penalty conversion from Hine and a field goal from Seppe gave them a two-goal lead. Cambiaso converted twice for 90210 to tie it up yet again, 10-10. However, a Penalty 1 automatic goal put 90210 in the lead for the first time since the initial throw-in.

Trailing by one with one chukker left, everything was on the line for Buena Vibra.

“We were one down, so I knew that whoever I was next to, I had to stick to them, get the man and clear up the path for Milly and Clara to make goals,” Tarazona said. “I just did whatever I needed to do at that moment.”

Buena Vibra held 90210 Polo scoreless in the sixth. Seppe scored two field goals, and Hine finished the game with one last penalty conversion, her ninth of the day. At the final horn, Buena Vibra came out on top, 13-11.

In addition to Hine’s accuracy from the penalty line, Buena Vibra’s ability to adapt and maintain a positive outlook under pressure secured the win.

“One of our biggest strengths is that we’re able to keep each other motivated,” Williams said. “We’re never too harsh on each other. We managed to keep it uplifting — the constructive criticism is pretty stellar.”

Despite having no players on their roster with previous experience in this tournament final, the team possessed a certain charisma and resilience that gave them a competitive advantage.

“We have nothing to lose, so we can go in, and it will be a win for us regardless. We just want to play well, play clean, have fun and make it a good game,” Williams said.

Buena Vibra’s win made 13-year-old Valentina Tarazona the youngest player to win the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship, a record previously held by Hope Arellano, who won her first U.S. Open Women’s final at 14.

“When I was little, I used to look up to Hope a lot,” Tarazona said. “Her being 14 and playing was incredible to me. So, to make history is amazing because Hope has been a big inspiration.”

The teenager credits Hope and several other players for helping her realize her dreams of competing in the tournament.

“When I was 11 years old, Pamela Flanagan [Devaleix] asked me to sub for Hawaii Polo Life — that’s when I realized I could do it,” Tarazona said. “Somebody had faith in me to play, and that’s what made me want to play more.”

The U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship awarded $25,000 in prize money. First-place winners Buena Vibra were awarded $17,000, and $8,000 was presented to runners-up 90210 Polo.

In partnership with USPA Global Licensing, both finalists selected a charity of their choice from 10 nonprofits to receive a $2,500 donation. Buena Vibra donated to Replay Polo and 90210 Polo donated to Work to Ride.

An additional $2,500 in prize money was awarded to the subsidiary tournament winner, Mint Eco Carwash (Cecelia Cochran, Kylie Sheehan, Izzy Parsons and Malia Bryan), after defeating Iconica (Winifred Branscum, Maureen Brennan, Sofia Rivas and Candelaria Fernandez-Araujo) in the Florida Women’s Open.

Most Valuable Player, sponsored by Wind Vintage, was awarded to Milly Hine after an impressive performance from the penalty line. Hine was presented with a vintage Rolex Oyster Date Reference 6694 circa 1979, generously provided and awarded by Eric and Christine Wind of Wind Vintage.

As for the MVP’s future, Hine wants to progress her handicap and pay it forward. “I’d love to one day maybe reach 10 goals and inspire younger girls and hopefully help them, like with Valentina [Tarazona] today, reach their dreams,” she said.

Best Playing Pony presented by Eastern Hay was awarded to Ceniza, a 9-year-old mare. Ceniza was played by Mia Cambiaso and is owned by La Dolfina. Cambiaso played the mare during chukker four and the second half of chukker six.

Covered in a celebratory hot pink fog, Buena Vibra rushed to embrace friends, family and other supporters on the sidelines.

“Playing this kind of tournament with these teams, these players, these organizations… being here for me is a dream come true,” Seppe said.