Nov 09, 2020 10:16 PM

2020 National Arena Amateur Cup Champions - Polo Interactive - Don Gruntmeir, Jose Velez, Wyatt Myr (149A0219) ©David Murrell web
2020 National Arena Amateur Cup Champions: Polo Interactive (L to R) Don Gruntmeir, Jose Velez, Wyatt Myr.

Qualifying over two days of competitive round-robin play within their brackets, Polo InterActive and Legends Polo Club (Nacho Estrada, Dan Faherty, Kim Buttram) rose from a field of six to go head-to-head in the National Arena Amateur Cup Final on Sunday, November 8. Holding the advantage in the first after an initial goal on handicap, Polo InterActive (Wyatt Myr, Don Gruntmeir, Jose Velez) quickly created a decisive lead with strong offensive drives to win the trophy 15-11 and $1,500 in prize money at Legends Polo Club in Kaufman, Texas.

Legends Polo Club's Nacho Estrada with possession. ©David Murrell
Legends Polo Club's Nacho Estrada with possession.

Opening up the game for Polo InterActive, Myr was countered by consecutive goals from Faherty to level the playing field and eliminate the handicap advantage early on. However, an automatic goal Penalty 1 gave Polo InterActive a narrow lead which they would capitalize on before the end of halftime. Making his move in the second, Gruntmeir led the charge for Polo InterActive, scoring four goals in a burst of momentum. Keeping Legends Polo Club in the game, Faherty added one to the tally but Polo InterActive’s steady push tripled the scoreboard at halftime 9-3.

Regrouping during the break, Legends Polo Club came out in the third with a bang as Faherty added the first two-pointer of the game which was followed up by Estrada. Wanting to shut down their opponents’ charge, Polo InterActive’s Myr retaliated soon after with a two-pointer of his own. Continuing to trade goals, Legends Polo Club inched closer with a five-goal deficit at the end of the third. Entering the final chukker up 13-8, Polo InterActive’s main focus was to hold onto their comfortable advantage. Awarded a Penalty 1 to open the fourth, Legends Polo Club attempted to chip away at the lead with back-to-back goals by Estrada. The gap having decreased to only two goals, Polo InterActive answered back with a pair of goals by Myr to seal the win 15-11.

National Arena Amateur Cup Overall High-Point scorer Wyatt Myr.
National Arena Amateur Cup High-Point Overall Player custom belt buckle was awarded to Wyatt Myr.

All players who participated in the tournament received NAAC neck gaiters and saddle pads from Royal B Threads and the runners up additionally received $1,200 in prize money. Polo InterActive’s Wyatt Myr was the overall high-point scorer on the leaderboard and received a belt buckle while Nacho Estrada, who came in second place, took home a U.S Polo Assn. watch.

Playing polo for 18 years and a former I/I player from Michigan State University, Myr served as an experienced team captain for his teammates. “I tried to play to each of my teammates strengths,” Myr shared. “Don [Gruntmeir] can push lines and he understands the game well although he has only been playing for two years. Jose [Velez] is also newer to the game playing for a year and a half. We tried to get Jose in the right spot so that when he could make a play it would be easier, but we all contributed to the win.” “I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of getting to compete against other amateur players,” Velez shared. “I adapted to the different playing styles and it helped immensely in my position playing defense. We executed our strategy in the final and together made the win happen!”

Most Valuable Player Don Gruntmeir  ©David Murrell web
Don Gruntmeir received Most Valuable Player.

Polo InterActive’s Don Gruntmeir was named Most Valuable Player and received hoof picks hand-forged by teammate Wyatt Myr in a blacksmith demo. “The biggest advantage our team had was our leader Wyatt Myr who is not only a great player but an excellent coach,” Gruntmeir commented. “Throughout the tournament he was able to coach my teammate Jose Velez and myself on aspects of the game that were applicable to our skill level. When this was combined with three players who were willing to work together we had a winning team!” Only having played in three arena games prior to the NAAC, Gruntmeir was grateful to receive the award which represents to progress he has made in just a short time. “I owe thanks to so many people who have helped me in my polo journey that I dare not try to list them!” Gruntmeir exclaimed. “Wyatt [Myr] helped me with strategy and he and I talked about positioning in the arena and relative to my opponent.”

Best Playing Pony Ichiban, played and owned by Wyatt Myr (©David Murrell
Best Playing Pony Ichiban, played by Wyatt Myr in the first and fourth chukkers.

Best Playing Pony honors were presented to 14-year-old OTTB mare Ichiban, played by Wyatt Myr in the first and fourth chukkers. "I've owned her for four years and she was originally purchased for my wife, but we found out she had too big of a motor for my wife to enjoy," Wyatt said. "In the arena Ichiban is a tough mare and she has a really good stop and she's quick side to side. She's been in my string for the last two-and-a-half years and I couldn't ask for more in an arena horse." Legends Polo Club’s Kim Buttram received the Sportsmanship Award and draw reins from Jackrabbit Tack. "This was my first NAAC tournament and it was fantastic," Buttram said. "Legends Polo Club is a great venue and the arena played really fast."

Sportsmanship Award winner Kim Buttram
Sportsmanship Award winner Kim Buttram.

Even though his team lost in the final, Legends Polo Club owner Nacho Estrada loved hosting and participating in the tournament. “We had moments of really good polo throughout all three days and everyone enjoyed themselves,” Estrada said. “Having professional umpires was especially helpful for the amateur players to learn more about the game and the rules.”

Although the tournament was forced to relocate from the original host site of Orange County Polo Club in Silverado, California, due to COVID-19, this did not have a negative impact on the attendance. “The amount of interest in this year’s National Arena Amateur Cup was impressive,” said Arena Committee Chair, Robin Sanchez. “This was the second year that the tournament has been played under the point system and it has grown even with all the unexpected changes in 2020. Multiple players drove over 1000 miles to participate making it truly a national tournament,” Sanchez continued. “The camaraderie was tangible as players from one team would come out to show their support and cheer at the other games. We are looking forward to the continued success and growth of the National Arena Amateur Cup in 2021.”

All photos ©David Murrell.