Mar 14, 2022 6:21 PM
In its inaugural season of competitive 16-goal polo, the Wellington Polo Tour (WPT) presented by U.S. Polo Assn. successfully concluded its second tournament, the Continental Cup™ on Sunday, March 13. Officially hosted by Patagones Polo Club (Wellington, Florida), the Continental Cup™ joins the Outback Invitational and State of Florida Cup in WPT polo across Palm Beach County.
After falling short in the Outback Invitational semifinals against Tonkawa (Kylie Sheehan*, Matt Coppola*, Ezequiel “Gallego” Martinez Ferrario, Nacho Badiola), Patagones (Benjamin Avendano, Joaquin Avendano, Jesse Bray*, Santiago Wulff) regrouped for the second leg of the WPT. Facing Tonkawa once again in bracket play, Patagones took the second match between the two teams 9-8, as they continued their undefeated streak to enter the final with an impressive 4-0 record. Tonkawa’s journey to their second consecutive WPT final included surviving a dramatic seven-team shootout to claim their place in the semifinals, where a victory over Dundas setup the anticipated rematch against Patagones at Valiente.
Holding a 1-1 split season record between the two teams with each game decided by just one goal, the Continental Cup™ final proved to be just as competitive and thrilling as their previous contests. The familiarity and comparable talent of both teams kept the match within striking distance for both determined rosters that required overtime to settle the score. Leading Patagones with five goals on the day, Santiago Wulff stepped up once more in the extra chukker of play to tap in a Penalty 2 for the nail-biting 9-8 win, delivering Patagones' first 16-goal title of the season.
Trading goals to start the action, Matt Coppola struck first for Tonkawa, with Coppola and Tonkawa giving Patagones a new composition to adjust to. “It’s a really good team,” stated Bray, “They switched positions today. They put Nacho [Badiola] in the back and Matt [Coppola] in front. The previous two times we played them; it was the other way around.” Wulff continued, “it was tough to adjust to that, it took us a few chukkers. We tried to play close to our man and mark our players. Their strategy was tough, we played them twice, and both times were close.” Finding an early rhythm catching Patagones off guard, Tonkawa continued to find early success on back-to-back field goals from Ferrario and Badiola.
“We got to this point because we are having fun and enjoy playing together. We organized and prepared this team six months ago and we wanted to show up and win.” – Santiago Wulff
Entering the second chukker with a 3-1 Tonkawa lead, brothers Joaquin and Benjamin Avendano and Patagones teammates in the 18-goal season at International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC) in Wellington, Florida, got into the action on consecutive goals to retie the contest 3-all. Adding an offensive flare on the field for Patagones while providing consistent man-to-man defense is a staple of the Avendano’s game. With experience as reigning Joe Barry Memorial champions, both brothers carried their momentum from their January finals victory at IPC into the WPT.
Entering halftime tied 3-all, Joaquin elaborated on Patagones' second half strategy, “At first, we switched a couple of things. It was me going to Matt [Coppola] instead of Nacho [Badiola]. After the first few chukkers, we came back to our original plan with me going to Nacho and my brother [Benjamin Avendano] going to Matt.”
Despite re-aligning their strategy, one lone goal from Wulff was all Patagones could generate in a fourth chukker dominated by Tonkawa. Continuing their effective synergy in open play, Ferriario scored his second of the match, while Badiola thrived at the line, converting three penalty goals to give Tonkawa a 7-4 lead at the end of the chukker. Never wavering and relying on their ability to remain focused, Patagones responded in the fifth shutting out Tonkawa for the third chukker in the game, while adding three goals of their own, including Wulff’s first conversion on a Penalty 4.
“We are a very defensive team. It’s tough to score goals against us, that’s one of our strengths. We try to play as simple as we can and be patient when they have the ball, so we don’t foul.” – Santiago Wulff
Keeping their opponents off the scoreboard is a source of pride and skill for Patagones, noted by Wulff, “we are a very defensive team. It’s tough to score goals against us, that’s one of our strengths. We try to play as simple as we can and be patient when they have the ball, so we don’t foul.”
Neck-and-neck throughout the entire match, the final chukker of regulation began in a 7-all tie. Badiola led Tonkawa once again, scoring his team leading fifth of the game, while Patagones’ top scorer Wulff answered with his fourth on a crucial Penalty 3 to keep the match deadlocked 8-all and force the title match into an overtime chukker.
Playing open style man-to-man polo throughout play, Patagones’ defensive nature did not affect their discipline on the field, as they established the edge drawing fouls, with just seven committed compared to Tonkawa’s twelve. The final foul from Tonkawa proved to be the most detrimental, as a Penalty 2 allowed Wulff to step-up to the line for his third successful conversion of the day. Sending the ball between the posts, Wulff and Patagones finally broke the stalemate in the game and tournament series against Tonkawa to claim another 9-8 victory and take their place as Continental Cup™ champions.
Reflecting on the hard-fought battle Bray had nothing but praise for Tonkawa, “Kylie [Sheehan] plays really well, Gallego [Ferrario] is an animal. It’s a really good team overall,” while Joaquin Avendano added, “They played very well, all three games came down to the final play.” Sharing Patagones’ secret to success in such a tight contest, Bray continued, “Being patient helped. Going through the moments—the good moments, the bad moments and maintaining and balancing them through the end.” Similarly, Wulff also expressed, “we got to this point because we are having fun and enjoy playing together, it makes it very easy. We prepared and organized this team six months ago. We wanted to show up and win.”
Providing consistent defensive play while facilitating scoring opportunities for his teammates throughout the final, Jesse Bray was named Most Valuable Player. A mainstay at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, winning prestigious 16-goal tournaments including the Silver Cup® and Pacific Coast Open, Bray made the trip to Florida to join Patagones with enthusiasm, “it’s been amazing for me coming from California to Florida. I have my horses at Patagones, I’m stabled there, and I play there. It’s a great organization and one of the bigger one’s that play in Florida. They have an amazing facility, track, practice field and barn. We’re always having fun and there’s good people around. It makes a big difference.”
Also making the journey from California is Bray’s 15-year-old gray mare Disney (Orchid’s Devil x Vying Princess). Winning Best Playing Pony in tournaments including the 2017 and 2021 Pacific Coast Open, Disney was once again presented with the Best Playing Pony blanket in the Continental Cup™. “I played her in the second, fifth and sixth chukkers,” shared Bray. “I’ve been saving her towards the latter end of the season. I haven’t played her too much. The semifinals and finals are the times she shines, so those are the days to play her for sure.”
For Wulff, coming off the 18-goal season at IPC and jumping straight into the WPT has been a challenge, but one he gladly accepts, “This tournament is new, and it means a lot. We came from losing the semifinals [of the Outback Invitational], and we were playing the 18-goal too, so our horses were a little weaker in the beginning of the season. Now we are stronger on the horses, and we wanted to go and win.”
Adding their names to the Continental Cup™ in the WPT’s inaugural year has also been special for Wulff and the Patagones organization, “the league is amazing. It’s one of the most fun tournaments we’ve played. It’s competitive, every game you play is hard, every game is close—you don’t see a big difference on the scoreboard. The fields we’ve been playing at are amazing, everyone is putting in their best to show up with the best fields and support the tournament.”
In a non-stop schedule of high-goal polo across South Florida, Patagones will be returning for the third 16-goal tournament of the WPT, the State of Florida Cup beginning Wednesday, March 16. Joaquin Avendano is also participating in his first GAUNTLET OF POLO® with Dutta Corp/Show+.
Competing on multiple teams at multiple levels, plus travel time and balancing his sophomore year at the University of Miami, Avendano shared his experience of playing in the height of the winter season, “it’s been very exciting, exhausting, but fun. I also attend school, so it’s tough but everything is going well. I’ve learned a lot of new things and gotten closer to a lot of new people. I’m enjoying the GAUNTLET, it’s a great experience playing with Timmy [Dutta]*, Tomas [Garcia del Rio] and Inaki [Laprida], and playing [against] Adolfo [Cambiaso] and Poroto [Cambiaso]. I cherish those moments a lot. It’s fun and I hope to be doing it for many years.”
Upon completion of the USPA Gold Cup® Avendano will continue in the U.S. Open Polo Championship® with Dutta Corp/Show+, as Continental Cup™ teammate Bray will be entering the GAUNTLET for the first time of his career with The Polo School. Teaming up with Carlitos Gracida, Matias Gonzalez and Nic Roldan for the U.S. Open Polo Championship®, Bray can begin to turn his attention to 22-goal play. “I’m focusing on one thing at a time,” said Bray, “We were working on finishing the [Continental Cup™] first, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we have a good team.”
*Timmy Dutta is an Active Team USPA Member. Kylie Sheehan, Matt Coppola and Jesse Bray 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.
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