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FLEXJET CAPTURES UNITED STATES ARENA HANDICAP TITLE AT ASPEN VALLEY POLO CLUB

Aug 06, 2017 4:29 PM

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United States Arena Handicap champions Alejandro Novillo Astrada, MVP Juan Bollini and Melissa Ganzi of Flexjet.
United States Arena Handicap champions Alejandro Novillo Astrada, MVP Juan Bollini and Melissa Ganzi of Flexjet.

In an action-packed thriller, Flexjet defeated Audi, 12-9, Saturday to win the United States Arena Handicap at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbonadale, Colorado. In the battle of the undefeated, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi 1, Juan Bollini 7, Alejandro Novillo Astrada 8) broke a 6-6 halftime tie on Astrada's goal with 3:52 left in the third chukker and never trailed Audi (Marc Ganzi 3, Nacho Novillo Astrada 8, Stewart Armstrong 4) after that.

Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet scores with his brother Nacho defending.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet scores with his brother Nacho defending.

Argentine 7-goaler Juan Bollini was named Most Valuable Player after dominating the game and scoring two two-pointers. Bollini has been playing for 32 years since he moved to the United States in 1985. "I still have it," said Bollini, who wears a pink helmet as a cancer survivor. "I wanted to prove to myself I am still here. I gave it 110 percent. After what I went through last year to win any tournament means a lot but I never expected to be MVP. My family and Marc and Melissa Ganzi helped me to recover and gave me so much hope. I always knew I was going to come back. When you have goals in life you go for it. I am always looking for something bigger and better, that's what keeps you alive."

Alejandro Novillo Astrada, making his Aspen summer polo season debut, was named Tournament Most Valuable Pro Player. He finished with 19 goals in three games, including three goals in the final. Stewart Armstrong, a USPA member since 1973, was named Tournament Most Valuable Amateur Player. 

Stewart Armstrong's, Bianca, a 7-year-old mare, was named Best Playing Pony.
Stewart Armstrong's,Bianca, a 7-year-old mare, was named Best Playing Pony.

Flexjet was most dominant in the six-team field scoring 43 goals in three games. The talented threesome defeated Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Bollini 2, Pablo Spinacci 6, Gabriel Gracida 4), 14-8, in the quarterfinals and La Karina Green (Harrison Azzaro 1, Lucas Lalor 6, Ramiro Cordero 5), 17-12, in the semifinals.

"It looks like we have been together for many, many years," Bollini said. "Melissa knows how to play in the arena and was doing a hell of a job. I have been playing a long time and Alejandro is a nice player and knows polo. We had the chemistry. It is all about game strategy, step by step like chess. You have to study the other team and know the game. We had a tough game to win, no one gave us any free rides. I am very excited and proud of this organization and what Melissa and Marc are doing for polo."

United States Arena Handicap trophy table.
United States Arena Handicap trophy table.

The game lived up to expectations from the opening chukker. Audi, a 15-goal team, started off with a 1-0 lead based on handicap. After Alejandro Novillo Astrada evened the score at 1-1, Audi scored three unanswered goals before Melissa Ganzi scored her first goal of the game to cut Audi's lead to two goals, 4-2, at the end of the chukker. The teams exchanged leads twice. With Audi leading 4-3, Bollini hit a two-pointer to give Flexjet a 5-4 lead. Armstrong countered with another two-pointer to give Audi back the lead, 6-5.  In the final 30 seconds, Alejandro Novillo Astrada scored again to end 6-6 at halftime.

Championship game MVP Juan Bollini of Flexjet receiving his award from Cece Armstrong.
Championship game MVP Juan Bollini of Flexjet receiving his award from Cece Armstrong.
Tournament Pro MVP Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet with awards presenter Cece Armstrong.
Tournament Pro MVP Alejandro Novillo Astrada of Flexjet with awards presenter Cece Armstrong.
Tournament Amateur MVP Stewart Armstrong with his wife Cece.
Tournament Amateur MVP Stewart Armstrong with his wife Cece.

After each team missed two scoring opportunities, the momentum swayed in the third chukker after Melissa Ganzi stopped Marc Ganzi's two-point attempt. Alejandro Novillo Astrada, set up by Bollini's 25-yard penalty attempt into the corner and despite Armstrong's smothering defense, scored at the 3:20 mark to give Flexjet a 7-6 lead. A minute later, Melissa Ganzi converted a penalty-two for an 8-6 lead. Nacho Novillo Astrada stole the ball from his younger brother and connected with Armstrong who scored and cut the lead to 8-7 with 30 seconds left. A Flexjet Penalty 1 with five seconds left ended the third chukker with Flexjet leading 9-7.

The fourth chukker was all Flexjet, playing with the same poise, chemistry and confidence that got them into the final. After Marc Ganzi hit a nice back shot goal to cut the lead to one, Melissa Ganzi scored off a deflection and Bollini came up with a clutch two-pointer for a 12-8 lead. Audi was awarded a Penalty 1 in the last 50 seconds to cut the lead to 12-9. Bollini cleared out an Armstrong goal attempt as time ran out.

Flexjet converted eight of 22 field shot conversions and Audi was five of 15. Audi converted both their penalty shots and Flexjet was two of 6. Audi led in fouls, 10-6. Both teams were even on throw ins with five. 

Bollini shared high-game scoring honors with Melissa Ganzi and Armstrong, each with four goals. Melissa Ganzi, the only woman in the final, finished with 18 goals in three games. Marc Ganzi added two goals and Nacho Novillo Astrada scored one for Audi.

It is the first time in several years that the tournament is being played as a stand-alone tournament and first time Aspen Valley Polo Club hosted the tournament. Also for the first time, the USPA Polo Network and ChukkerTV both simultaneously livestreamed the three-day tournament.

final stats
flexjet stats
Audi stats

All photos © ChukkerTV

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