Sep 18, 2023 10:54 PM
Assembling top youth talent from across the United States in camaraderie and competition, the finale of the National Youth Tournament Series (NTYS) Championship Cecil Smith Cup on Sunday, September 17, hosted by New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina, featured a clash between Central (Robert Pizarro, Lily Lequerica, Joe Bob Lequerica, Will Mudra) and defending champions Western (Micaela Saracco, Will Schneider, Ryan Kerley*, Piers Bossom). Morning downpours did not dampen the competition which was moved to an afternoon start time. Western’s strong sense of unity combined with potent offensive firepower and disciplined defense resulted in a truly dominant performance to earn their second consecutive Cecil Smith Cup, this time on the east coast.
“This tournament is not a low-level tournament. This is where the kids show they want to play. It’s right before the next level and they have the chance to prove themselves. I have a lot of fun, that’s a lot of the reason why I came, but it’s a chance to show what you have—it’s no joke.” – Western's Ryan Kerley
Facing Eastern (Augustus Grotnik, Malachi Light, Rehan Kumble, Daniel Arnold) in the semifinals on Friday, September 15, Central hit their stride in the second chukker and managed to ride their momentum all the way into the final. In a re-match of last year’s Cecil Smith Cup, Western found their offensive footing in the second half that included a three-goal fourth chukker to overpower Southeast (Finn Secunda*, Harrison Reicher, Joaquin “Pelo” Vilgre La Madrid, Joseph Schwartz) and secure their second consecutive finale appearance.
Kerley’s determination to repeat Western’s reign began with a desire to prove the west coast’s title could be repeated on unfamiliar horses and fields. Earning their previous championship at La Herradura Polo Club (Santa Ynez, California), Kerley and his teammates faced the challenge of acquiring and adjusting to new horses. “Last year we had our own horses, it was on home turf, we knew what was going on. This year, [is] everyone’s chance to prove that last [year] wasn’t because we had our own horses.” Renting from Gabriel Crespo, Kerley commented, “I showed up a week early to get all the horses for me and Mica a little more fine-tuned.”
Acquiring his horses from Pablo Falabella, Bossom shared his journey to becoming champion for the second time. “It feels a lot different because I didn’t have my own horses. I didn’t know the fields that well. That was the main thing, knowing the horses in one practice game, which is a little bit difficult for me. In the last chukker of the semifinal we played a lot better because I started to know the horses better, we all did. We started to know what we had.”
Utilizing her past experiences to embrace the unknown, Saracco added, “From a young age I’ve been taught to ride a lot of different horses every single year, so it’s not really that difficult for me to jump on a horse and go play it. For me it wasn’t an issue: new horses, new fields, I just get on and go play.”
Ranging in ages from 16 to 19, Western’s roster was comprised of four former NYTS competitors, including three champions in Kerley and Bossom (Western, 2022) and Saracco (Electric Charge, 2022), whose prior success in the Girls’ Division seamlessly transferred into the Open. Meeting adversity head-on, Western’s advantage came in the form of their strong bond and quick team chemistry. “I grew up with Mica and Ryan,” stated Bossom. “I’ve known Will for two years, I played NYTS with him in Chicago.” “It was the dream team,” continued Saracco, “It was the first time we have all played together. For me it’s winning with them that means the most.” Also grateful for the opportunity to compete alongside his friends, Bossom added “I’ve enjoyed this whole weekend a ton. Knowing them and then being on the field with them is more fun. You know them, it’s a blast to get to play with your friends.”
Awarding Central one-and-a-half goals on handicap, Western made quick work of eliminating their deficit on back-to-back penalty conversions from Kerley. “We got a great jump, we started strong, kind of knocked them down a bit,” reflected Schneider, “Finishing strong on Friday helped keep the energy, to make up the handicap goals and keep going.” Asserting their dominance in open play, Western hit four of six shots from the field and converted two of three penalty attempts. The red team’s unyielding level of play left Central without a goal in the first half to take a commanding 6-1.5 advantage.
Relaying Western’s purposeful adjustments from their semifinal matchup, Saracco detailed, “One of the first things was to move the ball quickly. In the semifinals we were trying to have too much control, to always have the ball, but it just really gave Southeast time to turn around and catch us. We gave them all the time in the world to come back. Today we turned around quicker, we hit the backshots, we were moving the ball.” Holding Central to only two shots on goal in the first half, Schneider added, “Being tight with the man is huge. That was really emphasised this weekend—stay with the man and the ball will come to you.” Saracco continued, “Central are very strong players and very aggressive, so we couldn’t leave them alone for a second.”
“I was quicker in transition plays, running from forward to back. The guys up front were really taking their man as well, so it gave them a lot more space for me to hit passes to them.” – Western's Piers Bossom
Under the leadership of Coach Jesse Bray*, Bossom assumed control of the number four position for the second time in a NYTS Championship. “I can read the game a lot faster with myself in the back than when I was running forward,” said Bossom, “It gives me more time to hit the ball cleanly one time down the field. It gives me a good watching point to see where everyone’s going and where the next play is going to be.” Elaborating on Western’s strategy, Bossom continued, “I was quicker in transition plays, running from forward to back. The guys up front were really taking their man as well, so it gave them a lot more space for me to hit passes to them.”
Summarizing the success of Western’s seemingly unstoppable first half, Kerley expressed, “What we did today was shown in glimpses on Friday. Today we came out firing. We came out hot. We were hungrier, we wanted it. If we want it, it’s going to be hard for anyone else to take it.”
“It was the dream team. For me, it’s winning with them that means the most.” – Western's Micaela Saracco
Maintaining their fervorous momentum to open the second half, Schneider and Kerley added to Western’s lead. Drawing a Penalty 4 in the third chukker, Joe Bob Lequerica scored Central’s first goal of the match, but three more unanswered goals from Schneider only widened Western’s gap. Reaching the goal for the first time from the field, Mudra provided a lift to Central in the latter stages of the fourth, but Western’s unified front and superior command from the first throw-in to the final whistle delivered an outstanding 10-3.5 victory.
Contributing four goals to Western’s victory, including three from the penalty line, Ryan Kerley’s ability to facilitate plays on both sides of the ball earned him the Matthew Cohen Most Valuable Player Award. The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Daniel Arnold for his continued positive attitude, fairness and support for his peers on and off the field, while Micaela Saracco collected the Horsemanship Award for her outstanding and consistent demonstration of riding ability and equine care throughout the weekend.
Best Playing Pony was presented to Harriet, a seven-year-old Quarter Horse played by Will Mudra and owned by Ardum Farm. “She’s not a homebred, but we got her as a yearling and my dad [William “Billy” Mudra] completely broke her from nothing to what she is now,” said Mudra. “I played Harriet at the start of the second and the entire fourth chukker. She’s just a machine through and through […] I’m so glad she got it; she totally deserves it.” Mudra continued, “She does everything I ask. She’s played for my sister [Grace Mudra] and my dad, whoever needs her.” With lots of polo on the horizon for Harriet, Mudra added, “She’s still young, so she has a lot more years ahead of her. She’s going to be playing the 6-goal this fall in Houston.”
Elated to earn his first NYTS Championship, Schneider shared, “It means a lot. I’ve always wanted to be at the finals. I was here a couple of years ago in Chicago and we went to the consolation, so to be able to come back and not just play in the final but win it, that means a lot.” Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, Schneider expressed his pride as the only Canadian to win the Cecil Smith Cup. “It’s nice to see Canada represented. We have lots of players that want to come down here and play but they don’t always get seen as much as players in the States […] It’s great there’s a Canadian on the trophy!”
“My brother didn’t win at NYTS, but I won two in a row, and it feels pretty good over him because he’s the older brother!” – Western's Piers Bossom
Growing up attending NYTS Championships and supporting his brother Bayne*, Bossom playfully noted, “My brother didn’t win at NYTS, but I won two in a row, and it feels pretty good over him because he’s the older brother!” Upon returning to California, Bossom will immediately jump back into the 8-goal Regional President’s Cup at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California).
Next for Kerley is Argentina where he will join Jared Zenni* to further his polo development. “I’m going to play some tournaments, some practices and have a good time,” shared Kerley, “I’ll learn a lot from Jared and whoever else is there. Improve—that’s the main goal.” Expressing the high-level of competition throughout the tournament in his final year of NYTS eligibility, Kerley stated, “Everyone I met last year that came this year showed they are improving, they aren’t plateauing.”
Awarded by his dedication required to reach back-to-back titles, Kerley summarized the honor of competing in NYTS, “This tournament is not a low-level tournament. This is where the kids show they want to play. “It’s right before the next level and they have the chance to prove themselves. I have a lot of fun, that’s a lot of the reason why I came, but it’s a chance to show what you have—it’s no joke.”
*Ryan Kerley and Finn Secunda are Active Team USPA Members. Bayne Bossom is a Graduating Team USPA Member. Jesse Bray and Jared Zenni are 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 ©Kaile Roos.
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