Aug 31, 2020 7:01 PM
Although starting off the tournament with a loss to 2019 defending champions Farmers & Merchants Bank, Klentner Ranch (Jesse Bray*, Geronimo Obregon*, Marcos Alberdi, Justin Klentner) quickly shook it off to win four consecutive games and secure their ticket to the Pacific Coast Open Final on Sunday, August 30. A rematch of the 2020 America Cup against Santa Clara (Lucas Escobar*, Santiago Toccalino, Federico Escobar, Lucas Criado Jr.), this time Klentner Ranch defeated their worthy opponents in the sixth chukker to end the high-goal season at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, with a 9-8 victory.
“We didn’t change much going into the last chukker, but we knew that if we had patience, confidence and faith in each other that we could win.” – Marcos Alberdi
Similar to their first matchup during bracket play, both teams remained tight throughout the match. Countering Santa Clara’s opening goal, team owner Justin Klentner was in perfect position to earn the first goal for his team off a well-executed pass from Alberdi. Each side adding a penalty conversion to their tally, the largest lead of the game was established by Klentner Ranch’s strong offensive plays in the second chukker. Gaining possession near mid-field, Obregon made an impressive run to goal. Making his move with under a minute to go, Bray also avoided defenders and charged uncontested to goal on his mare Disney, ending the second 4-2 and landing all Klentner Ranch teammates on the board. “Our strategy was to play our style of polo which is to hit the ball and run while putting a lot of pressure on offense and defense,” Bray shared. Quickly closing the gap for Santa Clara, Toccalino opened the third with back-to-back goals, striking in the first 30 seconds to capitalize on a broken play out of the throw-in. “After studying the game tapes we saw that Santi Toccalino does the most damage on the field when he hits the ball and pushes through and we wanted to stop that from happening,” Obregon said. Matching each other goal for goal, the teams equalized the scoreboard 5-all at halftime.
“What worked well for us [Klentner Ranch] in the second half was working for each other when our teammates had the ball and shooting to goal as soon as we gained possession. We knew with Santa Clara we couldn’t afford to play around with the ball.” – Marcos Alberdi
Evenly matched and equally competitive, neither team was able to shake their opponents to create a comfortable lead in the second half. Lucas Escobar added his first goal in the fourth, but Alberdi answered back with a spectacular angled neckshot which landed just to the inside of the goal posts. Pushing to gain the advantage in the fifth, Bray lobbed a powerful neckshot from distance on 7-year-old gelding Cell Tower to break the tie. Coming through once more for Santa Clara, Toccalino made two consecutive goals to inch ahead, but a Penalty 3 conversion by Klentner Ranch ended the fifth 8-all and resulted in the third consecutive chukker tie. As the game and tournament title came down to the final seven minutes and 30 seconds of play, the teams battled to end the game in regulation time. Exhibiting superb hand-eye coordination, Alberdi gained possession and escorted the bouncing ball, tapping it out of the air into goal. Going scoreless in the sixth chukker, Santa Clara conceded their second game to Klentner Ranch by a narrow one-goal margin 9-8.
“This is probably the most important tournament I’ve won in my career to date so it means a lot,” Alberdi shared. “I want to thank Justin for putting a team like this together which I’ve been able to play on for the past two years. I grew up with Geronimo [Obregon] so it’s nice to go from playing kids tournaments to winning the Pacific Coast Open together. When you have a great organization like Justin’s and especially when you are surrounded by teammates who are like friends and family that’s a bonus so I couldn’t be any happier,” Alberdi continued.
“It’s unbelievable to win the Pacific Coast Open and it means a lot because it’s the final end result of all the hard work and preparation we put in,” Obregon added. “It’s a huge accomplishment for the team, for each individual player, for the organization, grooms and horses.”
Playing with the same lineup in the 2019 Pacific Coast Open, Klentner Ranch made some adjustments to better utilize the strengths of their players. “In 2019 Marcos [Alberdi] played in the back, but afterwards we talked and decided we wanted him to be in the front,” Bray revealed. “He puts a lot of pressure on the other team as a forward so we wanted to take advantage of that. In the 2020 Pacific Coast Open Geronimo [Obregon] and I switched, I went to the middle and he went to the back, but we kept Marcos [Alberdi] in front.” As this was the first year Jesse Bray played as team captain, the young team’s hard work and dedication over the past year allowed them to take a step up. “It’s extremely important to give these young players an opportunity and see them grow,” Klentner said. “Sometimes it takes that second year for the team chemistry to jell.”
Responsible for the deciding goal in the sixth chukker and contributing the most goals for his team, Marcos Alberdi was named Most Valuable Player. “Our strategy heading into the final was trying to be quicker than them on their knock-ins and smarter on our knock-ins and throw-ins.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Chala, a 7-year-old mare owned and played by Geronimo Obregon in the second and sixth chukkers. “I bought her in Argentina in 2019 and I shipped her to the United States when I played with Daily Racing Form in the GAUNTLET OF POLO™,” Obregon said. “She was a little green when I first got her but she is becoming more mature and better as the seasons progress. One of her best qualities is the way she can stop on a dime coming to any play, turn, and run in another direction. She’s a complete mare.”
Winning his second Pacific Coast Open title, the win was especially meaningful for Justin Klentner. “Winning the Pacific Coast Open means we have built a solid organization that is always competitive having won in 2018 and a finalist in 2017,” Klentner said. “Truly I think the most important thing is to find teammates you like and who you would hang out with off of the field. That way you develop a friendship and you will go the extra mile on the field.”
Photos by ©David Lominska.
*Lucas Escobar is a member of Team USPA. Jesse Bray and Geronimo Obregon are graduating Team USPA Members. 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