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EMPIRE AND HANALEI BAY SWEEP USPA NATIONAL TOURNAMENTS AT EMPIRE POLO CLUB

Feb 10, 2020 6:06 PM

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ALL-AMERICAN TEAM EMPIRE DOMINATES TO WIN REGIONAL PRESIDENT’S CUP

2020 Regional President's Cup champions - Empire (L to R) Robert Payne II, Robert Payne III, Russell Stimmel, Rob Scapa.
2020 Regional President's Cup Champions: Empire - Robert Payne II, Robert Payne III, Russell Stimmel, Rob Scapa.

An action-packed day of finals on Sunday, February 9, at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California, began with the 8-goal Regional President’s Cup Final between Empire and Evergreen. A high-scoring and fast-paced game, Empire maintained the lead from start to finish, emerging victorious and capturing the trophy 14-11.

“What I love about playing with this team [Empire] is that we communicate and rotate well, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and cover for one another well.”  – Russell Stimmel

Striking hard from the first chukker, Empire (Rob Scapa, Russell Stimmel*, Rob Payne III, Robert Payne II) established their dominance early over the undefeated Evergreen (Tom Sprung, Carlos Galindo, Juan Jo Gonzalez, Carlitos Galindo*) team. Carlos Galindo opened the scoring for Evergreen with a Penalty 2 conversion, but Empire quickly responded with three consecutive goals from the field to end the first. The possession remained with Empire, as their relentless offense carried into the remainder of the first half. Adding two field goals in the second, Payne II paced Empire’s offense, but Evergreen’s balanced offense matched them goal for goal, ending the chukker tied 3-all. Extending their lead in a decisive third chukker, Evergreen committed four fouls, resulting in three penalty conversions for Empire, as they assumed a commanding 9-4 lead at halftime.

Eager to make up the five-goal deficit, Evergreen increased the pace of the game to start the second half, closing the gap by one with goals from the Galindos. With just two chukkers remaining, Empire continued to pressure Evergreen’s defense, forcing multiple fouls to be committed in the fifth chukker. Exclusively capitalizing on penalty conversions, Stimmel added two more, restoring Empire’s impressive five-goal advantage at the end of the fifth 13-8. Although Evergreen outscored their opponents in the sixth three to one, it wasn’t enough to match Empire’s potent offense. Securing a 14-11 victory, Empire captured the Regional President’s Cup with all players contributing to the scoreboard.

“Our strategy going into the game was simply to not overcommit and to take care of the ball,” Stimmel said. “Evergreen is an offensive running-style team so we knew we had to play tight on our man from the first bowl-in. Our team owner Rob Scapa did a great job in the front and we were able to hit a few big passes up field for him to score. Our back, Robert Payne II, had a great game shutting down Evergreen’s attack. Also, Rob Payne III was able to turn the ball over in the middle of the field very successfully which helped us transition from defense to offense.”

Most Valuable player Robert Payne II, presented by USPA Governor at Large Vicky Owens.
Most Valuable player Robert Payne II, presented by USPA Governor at Large Vicky Owens.

Playing strong in the back, Robert Payne II was named Most Valuable Player. “Our all-American team, three Texans and one Californian, lines up by position very naturally and our strategy has been to use that to our advantage,” Payne II said. “For me, at back, my objective was to do my best to shut down Evergreen’s amazing offensive push and try to get the ball out front on the mallet of the young guns and Rob Scapa.”

Best Playing Pony Quidget, pictured with Carlos Galindo and Giovanni Espinoza.
Best Playing Pony Quidget, pictured with Carlos Galindo and Giovanni Espinoza.

Quidget, a 7-year-old homebred mare owned and played by Carlos Galindo in the fifth chukker, was named Best Playing Pony. “Her best qualities are her speed and how she handles, she works so hard for me!” Galindo said.

What worked well for us in the final was playing non-selfish polo, using everyone on the team and playing to our strengths,” Rob Payne III said. “We made it an emphasis when putting this team together that we were all Americans and that we all play team polo. I believe we won because of our passing and our horses. Everyone on the team trains and plays their own horses. We won two finals back-to-back, the Pacific Coast Circuit Sportsmanship Cup and now the Regional President's Cup, so we plan to do our best to win the rest."

Playing alongside both his son and his friend’s son, Robert Payne II attributes the dynamics of the team to its success. "Russell’s father, Harley Stimmel, was a major contributor to my interest in polo and experience at a young age,” Payne II revealed. “When we were putting this year’s team together I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather have on it along with my son. Both Empire Polo Club and Rob Scapa have been very supportive and we appreciate the opportunity to be playing with them this season.”

HANALEI BAY DEFENDS NATIONAL AMATEUR CUP TITLE

2020 National Amateur Cup winners - Hanalei Bay (L to R) Alejandro Gonzalez, Taylor Freeman, Ryan Kerley, Krista Bonaguidi.
2020 National Amateur Cup Champions: Hanalei Bay - Alejandro Gonzalez, Taylor Freeman, Ryan Kerley, Krista Bonaguidi.

The final of the 4-Goal National Amateur Cup on Sunday, February 9, featured a highly anticipated rematch between Hanalei Bay and Zahedi Chogan at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Seeking to redeem their Saturday loss the previous day, Hanalei Bay proved accurate from the penalty line, capturing the National Amateur Cup trophy 13-11.5.

“Our strategy was to keep the ball away from the main player, and when he had possession we systematically took away his support and forced him to scramble. Spreading the field and forcing the other team to chase us down worked well for us.”  – Ryan Kerley

Although both teams scored two goals apiece, Zahedi Chogan (Sy Zahedi, Meghan Gracida, Dayelle Fargey, Francisco Guinazu) ended the first with a narrow advantage over Hanalei Bay (Krista Bonaguidi, Ryan Kerley, Alejandro Gonzalez, Taylor Freeman) receiving a half goal on handicap. Despite conceding possession, Hanalei Bay kept pace with Gonzalez’s strong offensive drive, scoring the team’s first six goals in the first three chukkers. Exploding in the third with four consecutive goals, Zahedi Chogan launched a balanced offensive with each of the players contributing to the scoreboard. The high-scoring third chukker concluded with back-to-back goals in retaliation from Taylor Freeman, giving Hanalei Bay a narrow 8-7.5 lead at halftime.

Gunning for an undefeated tournament record, Zahedi Chogan came out strong in the fourth chukker, scoring another four goals, three off the mallet of Guiñazu to return Zahedi Chogan back to the lead 11.5-9 with just one chukker remaining. A persistent Hanalei Bay team jumped on every loose ball in the last chukker, putting Zahedi Chogan on the defensive which resulted in numerous fouls. Capitalizing on crucial penalty opportunities, Hanalei Bay converted three Penalty 2’s and a Penalty 3, rendering their opponents scoreless. Defending their 2019 title, Hanalei Bay once again secured the win with a thrilling 13-11.5 victory.

MVP Francisco Guiñazu
Most Valuable player Francisco Guiñazu presented by USPA Governor at Large Vicky Owens.

Learning from their first game against Zahedi Chogan, Hanalei Bay improved on their team strategy for the final matchup. “We were disciplined with the man, hit backshots and we all worked together well,” Taylor Freeman said. “I think as a team we rotated well,” Alejandro Gonzalez said in agreement. “It didn’t matter who, but one of us was always defending an opponent.”

Scoring seven goals on the day, Zahedi Chogan’s Francisco Guiñazu was named Most Valuable Player.

Best Playing Pony Sunny D, played by Alejandro Gonzalez. Pictured with Andres Gonzalez and Luis Baez.
Best Playing Pony Sunny D, played by Alejandro Gonzalez. Pictured with Andres Gonzalez and Luis Baez.

Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Sunny D, a 13-year-old mare played by Alejandro Gonzalez in the fifth chukker. “I bought her two years ago from Nick Cifuni,” Gonzalez said. “She has a great mouth and an explosive start.”

*Russell Stimmel and Carlitos Galindo are Team USPA alumni. The mission of Team USPA is to improve the sport of polo in the United States by developing the talent/skills of young American players through mentored training and playing opportunities, ultimately leading to a pool of higher rated American players.

All photos courtesy of ©Lynn Bremner.

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