Jan 15, 2021 10:50 PM
Both teams claiming a decisive win in their respective semifinal matchups, Florida (Finn Secunda, Jack Whitman*, Hope Arellano*, Landen Eckbo Daniels) challenged defending champions Eastern Region (Sophie Grant, Hunter Van der Burgt, Winston Painter*, Aiden Meeker) in the 2020 National Youth Tournament Series Championship® Final. Played Friday, January 15 (postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), on the U.S. Polo Assn. Field 1 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (Wellington, Florida), the final saw Florida assume early control of the game and earn the trophy 10.5-4 in their home region.
“I was very impressed with the competition this year. All the teams have a special talent and the tournament gets better every year. All the participants have improved over the years and its resulted in a faster-paced game.” – Carlucho Arellano, USPA Executive Director of Services
As the highest rated player on the field, Florida team captain Arellano opened the first with a run to goal within the first minute of play. Scoring almost immediately after, Secunda sprang into action with a neckshot to goal, setting the tone for the remainder of the game. Continuing to extend their advantage in the second chukker, Florida added three additional goals in the second which landed all team members on the scoreboard. Unable to rally a successful offensive attack, Eastern was rendered scoreless in the first half. Establishing a comfortable lead, Florida entered halftime up 5.5-0.
As the competition intensified in the second half, fouls in the third chukker in favor of Eastern slowly allowed the team to chip away at the deficit. Converting two penalty shots, Painter broke the silence for his team on Pérsico. Florida retaliated with two impressive field goals to claim the 7.5-3 lead, Arellano first making a run on a complete breakaway followed by Secunda who took out Painter with a superb display of horsepower. Entering the fourth and final chukker, Florida did not let up on the gas, Whitman scoring back-to-back goals. Descending on the green team’s goal posts, Whitman’s initial shot was blocked by Meeker, but Arellano was in position to pick up the third goal of the chukker. Although Grant finished play off with a strong goal, Florida ultimately won the title 10.5-4. “It was really nice to see everybody working together,” Daniels said. “Throughout the entire game we focused on playing our positions and holding our man.”
A true rematch, five players representing both Eastern and Florida teams were in the final last year. Falling just short of the 2019 trophy with a 6-5 defeat, Florida’s Whitman, Daniels and Arellano were especially motivated to not let the 2020 title escape from their grasp. “It's so nice to finally get a win, it feels amazing!” Daniels exclaimed. “This is my fourth year playing so it's really nice.”
Although only 13-years-old, Secunda more than held his own and played with a maturity well beyond his years. “Finn is amazing, he is such a shredder on the field and a sweetheart off the field,” Arellano shared about her teammate. “We hadn’t played together before, but it was very fun to play with him and he’s one of my favorite teammates.” “We knew that Winston [Painter] would be dangerous and we took him out of the game as much as we could,” Secunda said. “We all took our own man and since I was the number one I would take whoever was hitting the knock ins and free hits.”
Coached by 6-goaler Jared Zenni*, the Florida Region benefitted from his knowledge and experience which was incorporated in their team strategy. “We came out really strong from the beginning and Jared [Zenni] had a great plan for us,” Whitman commented. “He wanted us to just hit the ball the first time, play simple, play open and take the man and it really worked for us.” “They're all very willing to learn,” Zenni said. “As a coach I just tried to help as much as I could and give them my perspective.”
Celebrating her first win, Florida’s Hope Arellano was named Matt Cohen Most Valuable Player. “It feels amazing to win the rematch against Eastern,” Arellano said. “Everyone knew it was going to be a really difficult game and they are all good friends of ours so it was a lot of fun.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Pérsico, an 8-year-old chestnut gelding played by Eastern’s Winston Painter in the third chukker. Bred by Ellerstina in Argentina, Pérsico is the offspring of two top bloodlines (Penca/Cassino). “I played Pérsico in the third chukker of the semifinal against Western and scored six goals in that one chukker,” Painter said. “He’s an absolute machine, he has tons of power, breaks well and is everything you can ask for in a great horse.”
Mounted by Gabriel Crespo for the second year in a row, Painter also played the the 2019 National Youth Tournament Series Championship® Final Best Playing Pony Chaparra (Chalina x Casino) in at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina. “I first saw him [Painter] play in Aiken a couple years ago and he caught my eye and last winter he was my working student,” Crespo said. “He’s a very talented young American player who deserves the help so I was happy to mount him again for this tournament.”
Currently for sale, Pérsico will likely be seen in the 2021 GAUNTLET OF POLO® played by Aspen/Dutta Corp’s Stewart Armstrong. “His mentality is probably his greatest strength on the field, he’s always very attentive and has the same mindset as a player,” Painter added. “He’s always looking and asking where to go, you never have to force him to do anything.”
The Horsemanship Award was presented to Florida’s Finn Secunda and the Sportsmanship Award was awarded to Western’s Alea Crespo, both first time participants. “I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to learn and experience more and I’m so happy that I said ‘yes!’” Alea Crespo said. “Everyone here is so kind and even though I just met these people they were all so nice to me, so I’m really lucky that I got to play.”
Meeting the Western Region in the consolation final earlier in the day, the Central Region came in third place with a final score of 6-2.
Although the 2020 National Youth Tournament Series Championship® was initially scheduled to be held at Oak Brook Polo Club (Oak Brook, Illinois) last year, the teams were thankful that they were still able to participate in the tournament at a later date. “It’s a great tribute to everybody, the players, organizers, Committee, clubs and horse providers to be able to put on this event,” said USPA CEO Robert Puetz. “I’m so happy that we could give this opportunity to the kids to play on outstanding fields both at IPC and Port Mayaca Polo Club.”
*Jack Whitman, Hope Arellano and Winston Painter are Active Team USPA members. Jared Zenni is a Graduating Team USPA Member. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
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