DOUBLE TROUBLE: Texas A&M men and women take titles.

The men and women of Texas A&M University became the second team in history to complete a rare double-double in the world of intercollegiate polo, sweeping the competition for the second year in a row to bring home the silver in the National Intercollegiate Championships held at Virginia Polo, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia, April 1-7. The only other school to accomplish this feat in the history of the tournament was the University of California Davis, which celebrated wins in both the men’s and women’s divisions in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Women’s Division

For the third year in a row, the final saw University of Virginia take on Texas A&M. UVA won it in 2017, while TAMU took the honors last year. Four teams competed in the championship this year, in a single-elimination format. Matches were played as six five-minute chukkers rather than the traditional four seven-minute chukkers.

To get to the final, Texas A&M claimed its spot with a stellar performance and deadly aim when shooting from the field, overtaking California Polytechnic State University, 20-3. On the other side, University of Virginia held off a late run by Cornell University, earning its spot with a 19-17 win.

Horses, courtesy of Cornell, proved to even the competition in the first chukker with each team tallying four goals. Marissa Wells led the way for the Aggies, while Sadie Bryant’s accuracy from the penalty line aided the Cavaliers. TAMU began to take control of the game when it mounted UVA horses for the second chukker.

“We felt very confident on the UVA horses, since we’ve had the opportunity to play them a few times this year,” reflected Ally Vaughn.

Wells sunk an additional three goals in the chukker, including the lone two-point shot of the game, while UVA was held to a single score from Meghan Milligan. The third chukker was similar to the second, with another trio of goals from Wells and a tally from Bryant for UVA, ending the half with TAMU on top 10-6.

“The first half was very close,” said Wells. “We just slowly took the lead one goal at a time.

Stellar Aggie defense won the fourth chukker as it shut out the Cavaliers while Wells and Vaughn combined for four more goals. UVA, hustling to make a comeback, was rewarded with a Penalty 1 in the fifth chukker. Heading into the last chukker, the teams were assigned to horses provided from Wells’ mother, Kelly Wells, and the TAMU string included her well-known paint pony, Napoleon, who is scheduled to be retired from I/I polo after this season.

“When I saw that I would end this game and both of our careers together in that final chukker, I was very emotional, I couldn’t believe it,” Wells, a senior, recounted. “[Napoleon] has made an enormous impact on my career and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

The duo added a final tally to their years of spectacular play, with teammates Vaughn and Hannah Reynolds each scoring from the field to match Milligan’s two tallies for UVA, ending the game, 20-9, in favor of the Aggies.

TAMU’s Wells and Reynolds, along with UVA’s Milligan and Cornell’s Shariah Harris, were named to the Women’s National All-Stars. Cal Poly’s Claire English was elected to receive the Connie Upchurch award for sportsmanship. UVA’s women’s string, including Best Playing Pony Galleta, was voted Best Playing String by the players.

MEN'S DIVISION WOMEN'S DIVISION
   
CA Polytechnic State U
Stone Rush
Theo Anastos
Sayge Ellington-Lawrence
Brandon Carreon


CA Polytechnic State U
Fiona McBride-Luman
Maggie Papka
Megan Wurden
Claire English
Sydney Weise
Carter Nix
   
Cornell
Jedidiah Cogan
Grant Feuer
Lorenzo Masias
Morgan Palacios
Cornell
Rachel Booth
Shariah Harris
Anna Ullman
Ingred Donnan
Kyra Umrigar
   
Texas A&M University
Christian Aycinena
Fritz Felhaber
Mariano Silva
Colton Valentine
Texas A&M University
Marissa Wells
Alexandra Vaughn
Courtney Price
Hannah Reynolds
Emma Glynn
   
University of Virginia
Jack McLean
Ignacio Viana
Brennan Wells
Simon Colloredo-Mansfield
Antonio Mendes de Almeida
University of Virginia
Demitra Hajimihalis
Meghan Milligan
Jessica Riemann
Connell Erb
Mia Sweeney
Sadie Bryant
   
University of North Texas
Vaughn Miller Jr.
Turner Wheaton
Andrew Scott
 

 

Men’s Division

Five teams participated in the men’s championship, playing off in a single-elimination format.

The first match had Western region champions from California Polytechnic State University facing off against the wild-card selection from the Central region—University of North Texas—in the quarterfinal round. The Mean Green of UNT overcame the Mustangs in a 27-3 decision to earn its spot in the semifinal round against the University of Virginia. However, the North Texas team’s hopes were short lived after the Cavaliers stopped them in a 23-6 contest to move on to the final. The Texas A&M University Aggies squeaked out a 15-14 win over Cornell University in the second semifinal to set the final matchup.

TAMU would face UVA in the final for the first time since 2016, when TAMU got the 16-15 edge.

This time, the seasoned TAMU men entered the arena as underdogs, seeded No. 2 to the undefeated freshman trio from UVA. The Cavaliers came out firing in the first chukker, with Jack McLean quickly opening up the scoring. Teammate Nachi Viana hit the first two-pointer of the game soon after and Brennan Wells added two goals of his own to give UVA the 5-0 advantage. McLean found the goal once more before the Aggies got on the board with a tally from Christian Aycinena to end the chukker.

“We had to stick together after we got down by five in the first chukker,” recalled Mariano Silva. “We knew it would take one goal at a time to stay in the game.”

TAMU was unable to gain any ground in the second as UVA neutralized penalty conversions from Viana and Silva with field goals from Wells and teammate Fritz Felhaber. Viana opened the third chukker with a massive two-point score out of the lineup to put the Cavaliers on top, 10-3. Aycinena and Wells traded goals to maintain the comfortable seven-goal gap between the two powerhouses until the Aggies rallied, dominating the rest of the chukker. Silva nailed three goals, including a beautiful two-point shot, while Aycinena found the goal two more times to bring TAMU within two, 11- 9, at the half.

Aycinena cut the lead to one from the penalty line to begin the fourth chukker, but McLean found his mark to put the lead back to two. Back and forth goal-mouth defense prevailed throughout the chukker, but back-to-back goals from Aycinena tied the game at 12-all heading into the fifth chukker.

“We’ve played in a lot of close games this year against University of Kentucky, University of North Texas and Cornell yesterday,” TAMU’s Colton Valentine said. “We knew we could make this game turn in our favor.”

The teams traded goals evenly in the fifth chukker, but Viana’s third two-point score of the game proved to be the difference, giving UVA the lead by one, 14-13, moving into the last chukker. Two goals in a row off Aycinena’s mallet equalized the score then gave TAMU the lead early in the sixth chukker. Wells and Viana countered to put UVA back in front, 18-17. Felhaber tied the score for the last time and Aycinena popped in the go-ahead goal with minutes remaining in the match. With ice in his veins, Aycinena didn’t let the pressure get to him as he put the game out of reach with two penalty conversions, sealing the 21-18 win in favor of the Aggies.

“We have been visualizing this win,” explained Aycinena. Silva elaborated, “After being here a few weeks ago and losing, we’ve been constantly thinking about this game. We’ve been working out, practicing, and playing, all while imagining ourselves winning again. Our desire to win has been enormous.”

TAMU’s Aycinena and Silva, along with UVA’s Viana and Cornell’s Lorenzo Masias, were selected as the Men’s National All-Stars. Andrew Scott from the University of North Texas was the recipient of the Connie Upchurch award for sportsmanship. UVA’s top string of horses, which included Best Playing Pony Nemo, was named Best Playing String.

The I/I team would like to thank Virginia Polo, Inc., Lou Lopez and Jess Schmidt for hosting the event and coordinating with us for an amazing tournament. A huge thank you to our horse providers Cornell University, Dardo Iglesias, Garrison Forest School, Kelly Wells, Olivia and Nate Berube and University of Virginia. Special thanks to our umpiring team of John Bianco, Bradley Biddle, Robert Lyn Kee Chow and Mike VanDerwerken.

-- By Emily Dewey • Photos by Mike Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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