Mar 01, 2022 5:00 AM
The nail biting 14-goal Heritage Cup™ final at Port Mayaca Polo Club (Okeechobee, Florida) has spectators on the edge of their seats and featured defending champions BTA (Geronimo Obregon, Steve Krueger*, Juan Martin Obregon, Kelly Beal) against the hottest team of the season Blandings (Stewart Burkland, Carlitos Gracida, Costi Caset*, Tommy Collingwood), who entered their second straight final after capturing the 14-goal Mayaca Challenge trophy just one month earlier.
In one of the most memorable finals to date, overtime was needed, but not just one as the dramatic final carried through to a second overtime when BTA’s Juan Martin Obregon broke free for the golden goal and a remarkable 7-6 victory for BTA.
“They have been winning everything. We had to play really well to beat them. It was a very matched game, going to eight chukkers, so super excited to win it!” – Steve Krueger
Returning to the Heritage Cup™ final for the second consecutive year, BTA drew upon their chemistry with three returning players, and the addition of another family member in Geronimo Obregon. “I have been playing with Juan Martin [Obregon] for the last couple of years. We played in Texas together and last year in the 14-goal here at Port Mayaca. We got Geronimo [Obregon] this year and he fit right in. We have been friends for a long time and it’s a pleasure to play with them,” mentioned Krueger, as BTA jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first chukker on field goals from Krueger and Geronimo Obregon.
Showcasing an effective rotation from their trio at the back, Blandings quickly brought the game even at 2-all in the second chukker with back-to-back goals from Gracida and Collingwood with Caset contributing an assist. “Blandings biggest strength is their positioning and how they rotate on the field, it’s a really good system that they have,” explained Geronimo Obregon. It was evident early in the game how closely matched BTA and Blandings were as little separated the two teams entering halftime, deadlocked at 3-all with Gracida and Geronimo Obregon leading their respective teams with two goals each.
In search of their second 14-goal title of the season, Blandings raced out of halftime to take their first lead of the game from Gracida, but a response from BTA’s Juan Martin Obregon before the end of the fourth chukker ensured the game remained tied. With just two chukkers remaining in regulation, BTA drove forward in an attempt to pull away and build a lead as Geronimo Obregon sent a crucial Penalty 4 through the posts. A determined BTA defense held Blandings to just one penalty goal the entire game, but their attempts to hold onto the lead resulted in Gracida’s second penalty goal, sending the game into overtime.
A tense overtime chukker began with the Obregon brothers each firing a shot toward goal but were unable to find the mark, giving Blandings an opportunity to respond. Drawing a foul, Gracida went to the 30-yard line for a chance to win the game, but the Penalty 2 attempt sailed wide. Unable to convert a Penalty 4 attempt moments later, Blandings provided BTA with an opportunity to claim the victory, but neither team found the goal, sending the game into a rare double-overtime. “I’ve never been to eight chukkers in my life playing a polo game,” said Krueger, with Juan Martin Obregon echoing that sentiment. “The double-overtime was my first. Never experienced it. Very intense, but it was fun.”
The back-and-forth action continued, Blandings continuing to display their organized system with Collingwood at the back. Gaining possession at midfield, Geronimo Obregon sent a long pass in front of his charging teammates. “Juan Martin [Obregon] was to the right and Steve [Krueger] was behind. I hit it there to put pressure and Tommy [Collingwood] was kind of checking to hit a backshot,” explained Geronimo Obregon. “I saw an opening, I saw a gap and I tried to take the best advantage at the moment,” continued brother Juan Martin.
Deftly stealing the ball away from Collingwood, Juan Martin Obregon hit the ball off to the right of goal, but repositioned and calmly sent the ball through the goal to win the Heritage Cup™ in dramatic fashion. “I have no idea how he got to that ball,” exclaimed Krueger who was following closely behind and saw the ball go through the posts to win his third Heritage Cup™ title, his first in 2015 when the tournament was played in Santa Barbara, California.
Family ties are seen throughout BTA’s triumph, making the victory that much more special. “Playing with family is always a treat and winning is more of a treat. It’s a privilege. I always enjoy playing with Steve and Kelly, and having my brother Geronimo on the team really brought in some strong help and it’s been a blast,” shared Juan Martin Obregon.
The familial connection extended beyond the final where Steve Krueger faced his wife K.C. Krueger and her Tonkawa team in the semifinals, claiming the one-goal victory for a chance to defend their title. The excitement after the rare double-overtime finish was seen throughout the team. “We are really thrilled to win this. It was hard-fought. I mean eight chukkers? 7-6 double overtime, just unbelievable,” said team owner Kelly Beal, who joins son-in law Krueger for a second straight win.
For his determined effort at the back of the game, Blandings’ Tommy Collingwood was named Most Valuable Player, while Juan Martin Obregon’s Peña Carioca was awarded Best Playing Pony. “I got her about two years ago from Pablo Salamone. She’s an eight-years-old mare and this is her first season from Argentina,” mentioned Juan Martin Obregon. “I played her in the third chukker and overtime. She’s very agile with a lot of acceleration. She has a very good mouth and is a pretty complete mare.”
With little time before the next 14-goal tournament begins at Port Mayaca Polo Club, BTA and Blandings are set to clash again with Obregon providing little information on their strategy by saying “we need to play Blandings again so I can’t give you too much!”
All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More