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USA TELLS ALL: XII FIP WORLD POLO CHAMPIONSHIP - AN ARTICLE BY CLICKPOLOUSA

Oct 31, 2022 7:51 PM

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Brothers Nicolas "Nico" and Lucas Escobar look to bring the United States its first FIP World Polo Championship title since 1989.
Brothers Nicolas "Nico" and Lucas Escobar look to bring the United States its first FIP World Polo Championship title since 1989.

The world of polo turned their eyes this week to Wellington, Florida, with the highly anticipated start to the XII FIP World Polo Championship. Eight teams arrived in America to compete for the coveted World Cup, the most important international competition in the world.

The expectation is high, as the event returns to the United States for the first time in 24 years. In 1998, the West Coast was the star of the competition when Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (Carpinteria, California) was home to the V FIP World Polo Championship. The XII FIP World Polo Championship was originally scheduled for 2021 and was going to take place at Empire Polo in Indio, California, but the pandemic forced the World Cup to be postponed and a new venue was chosen.

The newly minted National Polo Center - Wellington (NPC) is an important venture for the United States Polo Association (USPA), as their goal is to promote the venue as the premiere polo destination during the year. The National Polo Center is the home of the Gauntlet of Polo during the winter season and now it is expected to host many other tournaments during the year.

The FIP World Polo Championship took place for the first time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the winner was the home team. The tournament has been played eleven times in total, occurring every two to four years (this time a five-year hiatus due to the pandemic). Argentina has won it five times and is the current defending champion. Other winners include Brazil three times, Chile twice, and the United States once.

19-year-old Hope Arellano becomes the first female competitor to represent USA in the FIP World Polo Championship.
19-year-old Hope Arellano becomes the first female competitor to represent USA in the FIP World Polo Championship.

TEAM USA TELLS ALL

After months of hard work and training, coach Julio Arellano and his team are proud to be representing the United States in the FIP World Polo Championship.

Their work started earlier in the year when the USPA organized tryouts in Florida during the winter season in January. More than thirty players took part in the event and the top eight were later selected. Arellano had the support of assistant coach Jesse Bray*, International Committee Chairman Jeff Hall, Team USPA Committee Chairman Mason Wroe*, and USPA Chairman Stewart Armstrong, who made up the Selection Committee and evaluated the team combinations based on team chemistry, skill, horsemanship and player coachability.

After taking part in a 14-goal tournament at Port Mayaca Polo Club (Okeechobee, Florida), the team traveled to Buenos Aires to play the Metro Bajo, another important event during the Autumn season in Argentina. It was a month of training both on and off the field, where the team chemistry took priority.

Lucas* and Nicolas "Nico" Escobar*, Agustin Arellano and Jake Klentner* are serving as the starters, while Hope Arellano* and Nicolas "Nico" Díaz Alberdi* will be ready to fill in as substitutes as needed. Joaquin Avendaño is out due to an injury; however, he is supporting Team USA from the sidelines. CLICKPOLOUSA spoke with the team about their hopes for the competition and what it means to take part in one of the most important international tournaments in the world.

LUCAS ESCOBAR

Lucas Escobar.

How did your team prepare for the international event?
"For preparation, Team USA traveled to Argentina in early September. We traveled to Argentina with coach Julio Arellano, and we played test matches in La Aguada with the Novillo Astradas. We also played the Metro Bajo which is a 14-goal AAP tournament. This past week in Valiente we have been playing team practices as well. The training has been fundamental to the team as we gain experience playing with each other and build team chemistry."

What are your goals as a team?
"My goals as a team are to win the World Cup. We know it’s going to be tough because I think that is every team's goal, whether they say it or not. Personally, my goal is to help my team win any way I can to the best of my ability and grow as a player and a person."

How does it feel to be part of the team’s starting lineup?
"I feel honored to be starting. To represent my country in the World Cup is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even more so in my hometown of Wellington, Florida."

Are you feeling the pressure to perform well on such a big stage?
"Of course, I feel a little pressure, but it is mostly excitement. I’m ready to go out on that field, represent the United States of America and give it my all."

How do you feel that the competition is taking place in your hometown?
"It’s really special to be playing in my hometown of Wellington at NPC. My parents, grandparents, family members and close friends will all be watching, supporting me and Team USA."

NICO ESCOBAR

Nico Escobar.

How did your team prepare for the tournament?
"We trained a lot in Argentina which, in my opinion, was fantastic. [There was] a lot of competitive polo. Since we played a lot together as a team in Argentina, here in Wellington [Florida] we are just adding the last pieces of the puzzle."

What are your goals as a team?
"As a team, our goal is to win the World Cup. Personally, I would like to lead the team the best possible way. Hopefully, this experience can help me grow as a player and as a person."

How does it feel to be part of the team’s starting lineup?
"I’m very grateful and honored to have been selected to play for my country. It really is a dream come true."

Are you feeling the pressure to perform well on such a big stage?
"There is no pressure, I am very happy for the position that I have been put in. I just want to enjoy it."

How do you feel that the competition is taking place in your hometown?
"I think it is an honor and a great experience to be a part of the World Cup. I am very happy that I get to play at home, I’ve known these fields my whole life. That being said, I am very excited to have my parents, grandparents, girlfriend, and close ones here to support me."

AGUSTIN ARELLANO

Agustin Arellano.

How did your team prepare for the tournament?
"The preparation has been intense, but so enjoyable. I am so grateful to have been able to be a part of it. We changed me to 1 and Jake to 4, which has been really positive!"

What are your goals as a team?
"My goals for the team are to do our best and really represent our country well. My personal goals are the same! I want to play to my best ability and really try to be a good representative of my country."

How does it feel to be part of the team’s starting lineup?
"I am so excited to be starting. I truly was just happy to be a part of this whole experience and getting to be on the starting team is amazing."

Are you feeling the pressure to perform well on such a big stage?
"I think there is always pressure when you play for your country! I don’t feel as much on a personal level because I know I will give it my all!"

How do you feel that the competition is taking place in your hometown?
"I am really looking forward to playing on home grounds. My family will be there, of course! We always support each other and their presence and support is the most important thing to me."

How does it feel to have so much of your family involved in the tournament as well?
"Having Hope and my dad part of the team means the world to me. My family are my best friends. Having them in the tent puts me at ease and their input really helps because I respect them both so much as people and players."

JAKE KLENTER

Jake Klenter.

How did your team prepare for the tournament?
"After the tryouts in Wellington and the 40-goal tournament at Port Mayaca, we ended up being eight players. Once they picked us, they sent us to Argentina, giving us the option to go train [there]. We played and practiced together. I lived with Nico and Lucas Escobar too. We were there for a month playing the Metro Bajo. It’s always tough getting everything ready. We didn't have the team ready for the first game and lost, which meant we went to the Silver Cup, but after that we won everything. We were still trying to get different combinations for the team, [so] that was good. We came back to Florida and started getting the horses ready and had a couple of final practices to decide what team it was going to be. We would practice and take notes about which horses we liked and which ones we didn’t just to be as prepared as we could. My routine totally changed because I moved away from home to a foreign country for a month just to focus on this tournament, and even now I've been in Florida for a month. I dedicated myself to this."

What are your goals as a team?
"My goal as a team is to win and to bring it home to the United States, to represent my country with pride and do well. Personally, I want to make sure I look good and [give it] my best and leave everything on the field."

How does it feel to be part of the team’s starting lineup?
"I’m super excited to get the starting position. There were a lot of really good players on the roster. To even be considered is a blessing, and then to be chosen to start in an incredible honor I'll have for the rest of my life, and I will be able to tell my children at some point which will be amazing. Also, to share it with my family, it’s an honor for me and my family because it’s a significant accomplishment in my career."

Do you think the team is feeling the pressure to perform well on such a big stage?
"There is always going to be pressure as we are at home. I will have my family and friends coming and we have the home court advantage. Still, there are a lot of very good teams and all you can do is try your hardest. I think this is probably one of the coolest tournaments in the world. To be able to represent your country and play against people who are doing the same thing it's amazing, especially with how much everyone cares about the whole thing. It's definitely something that doesn’t happen often so when it does you have to treat it with a lot of respect."

How do you feel that the competition is taking place in the U.S.?
"Florida is not home to me, as I’m from California, so it’s kind of different to the rest of the team. I’ve been here this year with Hawaii Polo Life. Thanks to them I’m familiar to Florida, so it was easy to adjust quickly. That being said, I’ve never played on the main field of NPC before. That’s definitely something I'm excited about and that adds another layer of significance for the tournament."

NICO DÍAZ ALBERDI

Nico Diaz Alberdi.

How did your team prepare for the tournament?
"The preparation for the tournament was really well organized, we got to play practices and games as a team in Argentina, at La Aguada, which helped us to start getting to know each other better and get a feeling for each other. Then we came to Wellington, where we continued playing practices together at Valiente, adjusting the final details to be ready for the day the tournament starts."

What are your goals as a team?
"For me, the goal as a team is to be at least top three in the FIP World Cup. I think we have done enough preparation to be ready to reach that goal, so hope we can work together as a team to achieve it. Personally, it will be a great experience, I’m already enjoying it since we started to play practices together, my goal is to work the best I can to help my team succeed in this tournament."

How does it feel for the tournament to finally be starting?
"I feel really excited for the tournament to start, with the tranquility that I know that we are ready as a team to face this challenge the best way we can."

Do you think the team is feeling the pressure to perform well on such a big stage?
"Not really! I wouldn't say we have [any] pressure [on us]. Obviously, representing your country in such a prestigious tournament is something special, but more than pressure I think it is an opportunity, which I have to take to enjoy and learn from it. Of course, being the hosts adds a little bit more pressure to the team, but we have to be relaxed and focused on what we practiced this last month."

What do you think about the organization of this international event?
"I think the job done for the organization of this FIP is impressive. Being able to bring 8 countries from around the world and play in amazing fields like Valiente and NPC Field One, with quality horses provided by J5, is something extraordinary."

HOPE ARELLANO

Hope Arellano.

How did your team prepare for the tournament?
"Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to Argentina with the rest of the team, but I was able to practice at Valiente a few times with the team!"

What will your role be on the team?
"I will be an alternate for the team! So, I will support them and be ready if they need me!"

How do you feel that the competition is taking place in the U.S.?
"I think it is amazing that we are getting to play the World Cup on U.S. soil! It is going to be such an incredible tournament! I’m so excited to be able to experience and be a part of it!"

JOAQUIN AVENDAÑO

Joaquin Avendaño.

How did you hear that you would be a part of Team USA?
"During summer I was playing a 20-goal tournament in Santa Barbara. Towards the end of the season, I was informed that Team USA wanted me to be a part of the FIP World Polo Championship beginning in November in Wellington. Without a doubt I said yes, I was honored to be one of the few selected to represent my country."

What will your role be on the team?
"Weeks before the event I began to train in the gym, and on the polo field when I could. Unfortunately, two weeks prior to the tournament I [injured] my right foot. I tried to do my best to be ready for the tournament, but it was too late for recovery. Even though I’m not playing, I’m happy to be a part of the amazing experience with Team USA and look forward to helping my teammates off and on the field with anything that could help, such as tactics, positioning or mental strength."

*Lucas Escobar, Nicolas "Nico" Escobar, Nicolas "Nico" Díaz Alberdi, Hope Arellano and Jake Klentner are Active Team USPA Members. Jesse Bray and Mason Wroe 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 ©Michelle Vantine Photography.

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