Most high school sports teams have rivals only a few miles away. The Garrison Forest polo team is different.
Its closest rival is a few hours away.
Garrison Forest cannot find anyone else to play in the state, so the Grizzlies venture far and wide for competition -- often playing college teams. The schedule has helped Garrison Forest, which has won national high school titles the past two years.
This year's team is tentatively set to open its season Friday at home against the Georgetown University men's team. The schedule also includes Cornell, Virginia and the Maryland Polo Club. The only high school team the Grizzlies will meet is Valley Forge, Pa., approximately 2 1/2 hours away.
Garrison Forest rarely plays teams its age. That doesn't seem to bother the Grizzlies.
"I think it's much more fun for them to play college or club [than high school teams]," said coach Cindy Halle. "I think it's definitely more of a challenge."
Her players agree that the tougher schedule makes them a better team.
"We play up to their polo level," said Lindsey McClees. "It's a challenge. We're not as experienced as they are."
The Grizzlies have had good experiences against high school teams.
The Owings Mills school won the United States Polo Association Women's Interscholastic Championship last spring by topping Culver (Ind.) Girls Academy, the only other team in the tournament. Alicia Wells, a Sykesville resident, gave the Grizzlies the title with a sudden-death goal. The Grizzlies also finished third in a tournament against men's and co-ed teams.
Even though only two teams competed in the tournament for the national title, Garrison Forest players enjoyed being No. 1.
"It's hard to describe," said Wells. "I really didn't believe it. It took awhile to sink in."
Garrison Forest also won in 1992 and finished second the year before. All three starters from last year -- seniors Wells, McClees and Michele Sanger -- returned, with junior Sara Gompf adding depth.
The Grizzlies also have something like a farm system at the school. Halle said she has a middle-school program where girls can learn the game. The program is full, she said.
Halle started for the University of California at Davis for four years after redshirting her first year. The team won the national title while Halle redshirted, then won it three times when she played. The other year, her team was the national runner-up.
Halle stresses that Garrison Forest does not want to be a polo pipeline for the major colleges.
She said only about one-third of the Garrison Forest polo players play in college. Halle said she tries to impress upon the players that education is vital.
"Nothing is more important than going to the college that is right for them," said Halle.
The biggest college rival for Garrison Forest is the school that has gotten most of its players -- Virginia. The two-time defending national champion Cavaliers had three Garrison Forest alumnae
on their 1993 championship team -- Christie Reed, Bess Worrall and alternate Barbara Frost.
There are only three players and an alternate on a team, so Garrison Forest has an influence in Charlottesville. This fires up the present Garrison Forest players. Said Halle, "They [like] playing vs. their predecessors."
As with Georgetown on Friday, Garrison Forest plays against men's teams or teams with men from time to time.
"I don't think it's hard to get adjusted to," said McClees. "They [are] bigger than us. We just had to learn how to compensate."
Can the Grizzlies make it three in a row? "We don't talk about it that much, except when it gets close," said Wells. "We all have the same goals. We have a really good chance [this year]."