On Sunday April 23, Garrison Forest Varsity Polo took home the Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship in an exciting match against the defending champions, Maryland Polo Club. The Grizzlies defeated Maryland 12-11 to win the title in a shootout at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville.
Sunday’s match was a finals rematch of the 2016 championship in Indio, California, where the Grizzlies lost to Maryland. Twenty-four polo teams in the United States and Canada start the tournament season in September, and play regular season games against teams in their regions to qualify. This season, the GFS team, Lila Bennett ‘19, Hannah Reynolds ’18, Olivia Reynolds ’21 and Emily Wiley ‘18, got a bye to the Southeast regionals where they lost in the finals to Maryland, but received a wild card bid to Nationals as GFS and Maryland are considered the two top teams in the country. GFS earned their spot in the finals by defeating Toronto 19-7 in the semifinals last Friday.
Cheered on by the many GFS fans who made the trip to Charlottesville, GFS took the lead early in the game by ending up 4-3 after one chukkar with two goals by Hannah and one each by Lila and Emily. The second chukkar widened the Grizzlies’ lead to 6-4 at halftime. The third chukkar was a good one for GFS—mounted on GFS ponies, the Grizzlies won the chukkar 4-2 and extended the GFS lead to four goals heading into the fourth chukkar.
Maryland came back strong as GFS had some issues with a few of the Maryland ponies. Olivia came in halfway through the chukkar for Emily, and played some good defense. Hannah hustled defensively to thwart a two point shot by Maryland, but a goal mouth penalty against GFS tied up the game, sending it into an overtime shootout in which three players from each team take a shot from the 25-yard line, alternating teams. Hannah sunk her shot dead center with only one Maryland player left who shot wide to give GFS the win.
Goal totals in the finals: Hannah-5, including the shootout goal; Lila-3 and Emily-4. Hannah was selected as an All-Star and Emily Wiley won the Sportsmanship award.
“The team started out this year as a talented group of individual players and grew into a cohesive unit who trusted and supported each other,” said Head Polo Coach Cindy Halle. “These past few weeks, since their disappointing game at Regionals, the girls redoubled their efforts, practicing against many local former intercollegiate players to speed up their game and reflexes. The final hurdle was mental as playing Maryland is always an emotional game since we have such a rivalry. In the end, all four girls put everything they had into the game–not just playing aggressively and hitting well, but using their heads to make smart plays. I’m so very proud of the progress they made this year to win this championship!”
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