Mar. 13—Teammates Alea Crespo, Summer Kneece, Brianna Jordan and Madison Jordan are looking to extend a run of top-level polo success over the next few days, competing in suburban Houston in a run for Aiken Youth Polo's third straight national title.
The Girls' National Interscholastic Championship dates back to 1991, and the Aiken squad, coached by Tiger Kneece, was established in 2017 and took top national honors in 2021 and 2022. There was no competition in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Polo in this category involves playing in an arena on groomed dirt with walls on all four sides. Each team has three players in action at a time, rather than four, as is the case with grass polo, which involves no walls. The arena arrangement has four players available, playing on a rotating basis.
Action against collegiate teams is a tradition for the Aiken squad, the coach noted. "We do it every year," he said, citing such opponents as Texas A&M, Kentucky and Virginia.
The national tournament is to begin Wednesday, March 15, and conclude Sunday, March 19, with the title game, set for noon.
The upcoming events, as described in promotional material, are part of the U.S. Polo Association's efforts toward "growing the sport by providing exposure, coordinating activities, recruiting collegiate and scholastic institutions and providing organized competition at regional and national levels with an emphasis on sportsmanship, fairness and safety."
The Aiken squad's competitors are to include Maryland (with nine national titles to its credit); Hillside, of Richfield, Wisconsin; Kingswood, of East Kingston, New Hampshire; and Maui, from Hawaii.
The squad's 2022-23 season began in early November and the team's record is 7-3 so far. Comprising Aiken's 2021-22 squad were Brianna Jordan, Summer Kneece, Robyn Leitner and Reagan Leitner.
The Leitners, recalling their challenge from a year ago, commented on priorities and preparation. "One thing that I think really helped us was we practiced in different-style arenas," Robyn said, acknowledging various types of footing in polo action.
"Working your horses every day" is another high priority, with focal points such as stopping and turning, she added.
"It's a sport that really requires all three teammates — or four, depending on how many you have — and it's very much a trusting sport, and one person can't make all the plays, and even if you have three great players, they have to play well together," she said.
Reagan noted that another preparation priority is strategy, such as considering which horses to use in the various chukkers, and establishing set plays.
"We had a lot of fun with it," she said, recalling the words "strawberry," "chocolate" and "vanilla" as code terms to help players move in harmony on the field. "Those would be our names for plays. I'm sure they have something fun cooked up for this year, too."