The UK Polocrosse National Championships took place over the 28th, 29th and 30th of August at Onley Grounds Equestrian Centre. Kent Target lifted the overall UK Polocrosse National Trophy for the second year in a row and perhaps more surprisingly, and more sweetly for them, they claimed another A grade crown as their top team defeated Highlanders in a very hard fought final which saw blood drawn, racquets broken and players sent off. Kent’s overall win was unsurprising, they are one of the few clubs who can compete at nearly every grade and indeed statistically there were only ever three clubs in with a chance of winning the Nationals trophy, Kent, Celyn and the Welsh Dragons. The Dragons’ top teams failed to roar and though Celyn claimed the B grade and picked up two second spots in the other grades, they could not challenge the results of Kent, who took three grade wins and a second spot.
The A grade itself was always going to be close and the early stages of the round robin proved to be just that, with Cotswold beating Kent by one goal but then losing to the Welsh Dragons when they were on the brink of booking a place in the final instead of Kent. On the other hand, Highlanders were undefeated going into the final and they had also defeated Kent at the most recent couple of UKPA tournaments. However, on Sunday afternoon Kent were inspired and early on the Highlanders could not quite match them. In the ladies’ section Emily Gilfillan was getting the better of Livvy Foley out the back of the line up and Joanne Lavery was converting the chances. In the men’s section, Will Halcrow and Domillon were just the fastest out the back as they battled with Travis Timm riding Colleen. Jason Webb and Joel Sics jostled and fought each other at the front of the line out and it wasn’t long before things started heating up. Umpire Simon Shearing gave the men their first dressing down in the first chukka and soon after that a swing from Travis Timm drew blood from Jason Webb’s nose as he bent down for a pick up. The Highlanders were frustrated and starved of ball and at one point in the second chukka were down by five goals.
However, Highlanders fought back in the middle two chukkas and managed to get themselves a one goal lead, with a couple of beautiful long balls between Travis Timm and Joel Sics in the men’s and Charlotte Pykett winning more ball and scoring more goals in the ladies. Things changed again in the fifth chukka, with Kent’s ladies section winning more ball again and drawing out a few goals lead, and when the men came back on for the sixth chukka, the Highlanders again had to pull things back. Every player dug deep and was trying their hardest to win ball, Travis Timm broke his stick in two as he raced out the back for a pick up against Will Halcrow. The Highlanders got it back within one goal but then disaster struck. Travis Timm went to pull in a dropping ball at the back of a line out and in doing so hit Will Halcrow’s helmet and gave away a free goal. Undeterred, the players lined up again and from the line out Highlanders were then awarded a free throw for a foul in midfield and it looked like they might again pull it back. However, at this point it was realised that Travis had technically done two head hits and after some discussion between the two umpires and the match referee he was sent off for two minutes. The punishment seemed harsh to Highlanders fans, given the nature of the second head hit but Highlanders were reduced to two players. Joel Sics took the free throw and duly went and scored to make the gap just one goal again but after that Kent won ball from the next two line outs and added two more goals. From there there was no way back for The Highlanders and at the final hooter Kent were once again the A grade champions. Will Haclrow rightly picked up best male player for his hard work in the number 3 shirt, while Domillon won best horse.
The B grade final was no less tight or exciting, as a strong Celyn team took on a similarly strong Kent team. There had been controversy before the tournament when Celyn decided to not field an A grade team and instead split their top players to help form a full B grade team and a B grade team mixed with a couple of Cotswold and Welsh Dragons players. However, Kent defeated the mixed team on golden goal in their side of the draw and made it through to the final to face a full Celyn team, which included Sarah Simkin and Max Pedley.
The final started well on the DH Decorators pitch in front of the main hospitality marquee but had to be moved halfway through after Jake Hall and Scarlett came crashing down as the rain, which had starting falling in the C grade final beforehand, made the pitch slippery. The match was relocated to the L&S Equestrian pitch, which had been recently sanded and so held up to the rain better, allowing the horse more grip. The rain also predictably petered out once the match, the crowd and the commentary system had all been moved.
The match itself was fast and furious and there was never more than two goals in it, as Kent were by no means lacking high quality players themselves, with the cousins Sam Marsh and Joe Marsh being the pick of their players who didn’t quite make the A grade team. However, despite some great moments, including the move of the match from Sam Marsh who somehow, at full gallop, controlled a ball with his chest, caught it as it rolled down his leg, bounced over the line while still going flat out and then somehow threaded a shot in from a very tight angle, Kent couldn’t quite match Celyn and at the end Celyn were declared the winner by just one goal. Sarah Simkin was very impressive for Celyn in her number 3 shirt, as she won ball and controlled the game well in midfield and then was a very hard player to get around in defence as well.
As is normal nowadays, the C grade sees so many entries that it was split into an Upper and Lower C grade. In the Upper C Grade it was to be Kent’s day as they comfortably beat the Welsh Dragons team in the final, though when the two teams had met in the pools, Kent had only won by a few goals. In the final Kent started well and never looked back as they pumped in goal after goal to eventually win by 15 goals. Welsh Dragons did at least pick up best player via Gareth Williams.
In the Lower C grade it was a win for the Northern Lions, who will be delighted to continue their progression up the grades with a Nationals win. Having moved up from D grade this season, they managed to win the Lower C grade in a hard fought final against Celyn. In the round robin matches Celyn had just defeated them on golden goal but come the final the Northern Lions managed to get a few goals ahead and hold it through to the end. Hamish Gillanders of the Lions picked up best player for his efforts in the number 1 shirt over the weekend, though it was by no means a one man show as the Northern Lions showed good team work and skill throughout to lift the trophy.
The D grade was also split and in the Upper D grade it was a win for Rugby. Their D grade team couldn’t win the Nationals crown in 2014 but this year they lifted the trophy as they overcame all comers in the five team round robin. Cotswold ended up in second place. Mehdi Mlaiki of Rugby picked up best player, while Kirsty Ogilvie, who was playing for Cotswold, picked up best horse for Torda.
In the Lower D grade Limemere Sparks lifted the trophy, in what was many of their players’ first full season. For most of the year their team has played in the E grade but they moved up to Lower D for Nationals after a number of E grade wins and proved that they were right to do so as they defeated Chiltern reasonably comfortably in the final. Chiltern threatened a late come back as they won more ball in the last chukka and added a few goals to their total but by then it was too late. The Upper D grade and perhaps even the C grade now beckons for some of Limemere’s players in 2016.
In the E grade, it was Arden who won the day, winning all their matches in the round robin and then defeating a mixed Cotswold and Welsh Dragons teams again in the final by 3 goals. Arden’s Jess Joslin won best player in the E grade and also picked up best horse for her horse Elisa as she showed great prowess in the number 1 shirt in only her third tournament.
In the Open Juniors it was another Kent win, as their juniors defeated everyone else to pick up the trophy, with Celyn in second spot. Matilda Marsh of Kent picked up best player and best horse for Little V. Matilda also picked up the Bombers Junior Trophy for the best junior player of the weekend.
In the Intermediate Juniors it was the Welsh Dragons who won the day, with Jack Rees-Elford having a particular good weekend as he won best player, best horse for Vieri and also Kirsch Cup for best junior horse and rider combination. Arden picked up second spot in the intermediate juniors.
In the Primary Juniors a combined Rockwood and Limemere Sparks team won the grade, with a combined Arden and Limemere Sparks team in second place. Eve Thomason of Rockwood won best player and the most outstanding Primary Junior award, while Maeghan Brown of Arden picked up best pony for Bobby Sox. Arden’s Boy Wilson-Fitzgerald picked up the Flecha Peron trophy for best veteran horse for his pony Polo.
There was a sombre moment at the end of prize giving when the new Tony Shearing Memorial Trophy was presented for the first time. Tony spent a huge amount of time in his life developing the sport of polocrosse and his family presented the trophy to someone they felt had shown the true polocrosse spirirt over the weekend. It was awarded to Anniemieke Mitchell of Celyn.
For fuller results of the UKPA National Championships and a list of all the sponsors please click here.
Thank you to all the sponsors and to the UKPA for a great event, the season is winding down with just the late season tournament left on grass. However, we have heard rumours of possible arena action throughout the winter at an exciting new venue…..watch this space!