January 08, 2003 11:00 pm
Malia Boles ().
Malia Boles ().

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

Union's Malia Boles said she was honored just to have been picked for a United States women's team playing in an international polo tournament in Australia.

Boles not only played for the United States, her team won the early December tournament against the heavily favored Australians. To top it off, Boles won the tournament's Most Valuable Player award while battling an Aussie flu.

For her trouble, Boles got to spend a week in Australia, won two trophies, got some international recognition for her polo prowess, won a week's vacation in the south of France, and even won a pair of Gucci sunglasses.

"It was great. It couldn't have come off any better," said Boles.

Boles, who does pre-arrangements for Daniels Chapel of the Valley in La Grande, owns 11 horses, and she's trained nine of them to play polo. She's been playing polo for about a decade throughout the Pacific Northwest, California, and even some games in Florida and South Carolina, but this was her introduction to international competition.

Boles received an invitation from a former teammate last fall to play for the United States Dec. 7 and 8 at the Millamolong Polo Club Will Ashton Memorial Ladies' International Tournament in New South Wales.

"It was a big deal just to get that call," Boles said.

Boles gladly joined the squad, and was teamed with women from Hawaii, Houston and Spokane.

Teams of professional and amateur polo players from the United States, Australia, France and England faced off at the tournament, held about four hours outside of Sydney.

Boles came down with the flu the night before her team's first game against England. She turned in a performance akin to Michael Jordan in the 1997 NBA finals, leading her team to a dramatic victory while fighting a virus.

"I was just trying to stay on (my horse)," said Boles. "I made this pact with my body, ‘give me an hour to play, then you can go back to feeling bad.' "

England went ahead 2-0, but in the waning seconds of the game, Boles scored to tie it at 2-2. Then in overtime, she scored the winning goal.

Boles said that was a "phenomenal" and "exciting" feeling to get past the Brits, but it only got better.

The following day, she was feeling a bit better, but she and her American squad had to go up against a powerful Australian team playing before its home crowd.

Several hundred people were in attendance at the championship game, which was also televised.

The Australians roared to a big lead, going up 6-11/2 (the Australians were so heavily favored that the Americans were awarded 1/2 point as a handicap).

"They play good defense. They are a really good team," said Boles.

Against England, Boles might have made like Mike, but against the Aussies, she was more like Jeff Garcia, bringing her team from way, way back for an improbable win.

In the third "chukker" (like a period), Boles scored a goal, then in the fourth chukker, she erupted for four more goals as the Americans went on to win the game 61/2 to 6.

During the awards ceremonies Boles was named the tournament's MVP. Even her horse, provided by the tournament organizers, was named "best pony."

Boles' reaction? "I did a big ‘jump up and down'," she said. She said her husband, Steve, was equally ecstatic.

To top it off, despite being on "enemy" territory, Boles and her American teammates generated a lot of support from the Australian fans. The fans were honking the horns of their cars all during the game, as the Americans surged back to upset the Australian squad.

"They treated the Americans like celebrities," she said.

Because of her experience in Australia, Boles said she definitely wants to play in more international competition in locales such as England and Argentina.

For the time being, Boles is just now finding that she's able to return to her normal routine.

"I rode that high all through the holidays," she said.