Nov 16, 2023 4:28 PM
Article courtesy of Grand Champions Polo Club/Sharon Robb.
In a rain-soaked final, Maltese Falcons (Melissa Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) captured the North American Cup on Wednesday, November 15 at Santa Rita Polo Farm hosted by Grand Champions Polo Club (GCPC) in Wellington, Florida. The foursome came from behind to rally for a 4-3 victory over Audi (Marc Ganzi, Brandon Phillips, Francisco “Pancho” Bensadon, Kris Kampsen).
“The field held up very well; it was fantastic and the horses were great. When you see the trophy, you forget about everything. You just go for it.” – Audi's Juan Bollini
In last year’s final, the same winning lineup played for Santa Rita and knocked off two-time defending champion Casablanca (Tomas “Tomacho” Pieres, Jason Crowder, Grant Ganzi*, Juan Sanchez Elia), 12-9.
"We know each other very well and are friends," Astrada explained. "We all know what we have to do on the field and how to use our strengths. That helps a lot."
In the semifinals on Monday, November 13, Audi defeated Casablanca (Stuart “Sugar” Erskine, Grant Ganzi, Martin Jauregui, Jason Crowder) with a thrilling 8-7 victory, while Maltese Falcons overtook Grand Champions Polo Club (Tomas “Tomacho” Pieres, Juan “Juancito” Bollini Jr., Pablo Spinacci, Pablo Dorignac) 15-10 in the second semifinal.
The 18-goal finalists were evenly matched. Audi jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the opening chukker with goals from Phillips, Marc Ganzi and a 40-yard penalty conversion by Bensadon. Maltese Falcons got on the scoreboard late in the first with a goal from Melissa Ganzi.
After that it was all Maltese Falcons, responding in the second, third and fifth chukkers. Roldan scored what turned out to be the game-winner on a broken play in the fifth chukker.
"I thought we were going to play slower than we actually did," told Roldan. "Once we all got out there it was like ‘all right, let's go,’ we wanted to play. At the same time everyone played with caution. The safety of the horses and players obviously was everyone's primary concern.”
Both the semifinals and final were met with steady and significant rainfall, forcing last minute adjustments from players and tournament organizers. The game was stopped in the fifth chukker because of worsening weather conditions. Audi, trailing by one goal, officially forfeited at that time, not wishing to continue.
“It was just hard to maneuver the horse and hit the ball because the reins and gloves were so wet. It was sloppy but the field held up and we got it done.” – Maltese Falcons' Nic Roldan
"We were just so wet," Roldan said. "It was beyond a wet t-shirt contest. It was wet t-shirt, pants, underwear, socks, helmet...absolutely drenched."
Despite the conditions, all players seemed to adjust well to the inclement weather. Astrada, who flew to Wellington from Argentina last Sunday for the tournament, said he had played under steady rain before in England.
"You have to work your strength differently than when it is dry," Astrada explained. "The ball doesn't run as much as it does when it's dry — it gets a little heavy. We were still running. The field was wet but didn't have any standing water.”
Astrada tied a knot in his reins to prevent the slick leather from slipping out of his hands and was provided a set of gloves by Bollini. "It was crazy, but it was the same for both teams," Bollini said. "We had the same opportunity to win or lose as the other team. Regardless of the conditions, it was equal.”
Executive Director of USPA Services Division Carlucho Arellano presented awards after Wednesday's game. Best Playing Pony honors went to Nitritiva, a 7-year-old mare played by Brandon Phillips and owned by Brandon Plunkett. For the second year in a row, Roldan was named Most Valuable Player leading his team with three goals including the game-winner and two penalty conversions.
"The hardest thing was holding the reins and stick," told Roldan. "It was just hard to maneuver the horse and hit the ball because the reins and gloves were so wet. It was sloppy but the field held up and we got it done. It's a good tournament to win."
Roldan’s teammate Bollini shared a similar sentiment. "The field held up very well; it was fantastic and the horses were great. When you see the trophy, you forget about everything. You just go for it. We were a little bit careful, but you want to win. A win is a win."
The next high goal tournament to be held at GCPC is the National Twenty Goal and will be livestreamed on Chukker TV. Please visit uspolo.org or Grand Champions Polo Club for the latest tournament information.
*Grant Ganzi is Team USPA alumni. 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 ©Candace Ferreria.
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