Sep 12, 2022 3:52 PM
Concluding an exceptional weekend of youth polo at La Herradura Polo Club (Santa Ynez, California), Western (Sebastian Celis, Daniel Miranda, Ryan Kerley*, Piers Bossom) was in search of their first Cecil Smith Cup against Southeast (Harrison Reicher, Josh Escapite, Aiden Meeker, Joaquin Vilgre La Madrid) in the National Youth Tournament Series Championship (NYTS) final on Sunday, September 11. Charging out of the opening throw-in, Western scored the first seven goals of the match and never looked back to claim the 9-5.5 victory and bring the Cecil Smith Cup to the west coast for the first time in the tournament’s decade long history. As the official apparel supplier of the NYTS Championship® weekend, U.S. Polo Assn. outfitted the players with whites and t-shirts and provided gear bags and saddle bags as prizes.
After capturing a decisive 8-3 win against Central (Joe Bob Lequerica, Shane Metternick, Lance Stefanakis, Landen Daniels), Western displayed a home turf confidence that came from familiarity with their horses. While the majority of competitors rented horses, Kerley began preparations long before the tournament even started. “We started a month and a half ago in case I got chosen to play,” shared Kerley, while teammate Bossom brought three of his own horses, along with three from his brother Bayne. “My horses played well, and my brother’s horses were machines. They did everything I asked of them.”
“My big thing today was that they showed up prepared and ready to go. That they were focused on playing and playing fast.” – Coach Jesse Bray
Not familiar with his teammates, Sebastian Celis who works at La Herradura Polo Club during the summer, rented from host Memo Gracida, but was familiar with each horse he played throughout the competition due to his time working in the barns. “It was great to know them and come prepared. You know which ones run, which ones stop, it’s a great advantage,” said Celis.
Despite their horsepower, Western faced tough competition in a Southeast team that featured a champion (Meeker) and finalist (Escapite) from last year’s tournament, while also conceding 1.5 goals on handicap to begin the final. Western wasted little time in erasing the early deficit just moments into the match. “Sebastian scored a really nice goal right out of the first throw-in, which took their handicap away and let us start to play a little bit,” mentioned Coach Jesse Bray*. The quick start accelerated Western forward with Celis adding a second goal, while Kerley came forward for two goals of his own as part of a dominant first chukker.
Outshooting Southeast 7-0 in the first fourteen minutes, Western carried their strong play into the rest of the opening half as Kerley scored his third and fourth consecutive goals to suddenly place Western ahead 6-1.5. Managing just one shot on goal throughout the entire first half, Southeast’s Harrison Reicher made it count, receiving a pass from Meeker to find the goal, and leave his team trailing 7-2.5 at the break.
Anticipating the quick style of play demonstrated by Southeast in their first match, Western continued to play exceptional polo. A key component in Western’s early success, Daniel Miranda was effective in the number two position, freeing up space for teammates Celis and Kerley. “I would take out the man and Sebastian would score the goals, so we played really well as a team in the short amount of time that we knew each other,” said Miranda, who continued to work tirelessly into the second half.
Holding Southeast scoreless in the third chukker, Western relied on the play of Bossom in the back position, who provided a steady presence despite being new to the role. “I don’t normally play four. Playing in the 8-goal, I was playing two. Playing four, I had the urge to run through all the time,” shared Bossom, however he continued to be an anchor on the defensive end. Kerley’s fifth goal provided the only offense of the third chukker, extending Western’s lead to 5.5 with one period remaining.
Completing an impressive display of polo, Kerley’s sixth goal opened the fourth, all but sealing the outcome. “It was such a huge advantage playing my own horses and I’m happy to say all my horses played very well and hopefully it showed,” explained Kerley as time began to tick down for Western’s first victory. Unwilling to give up, Southeast forced Western into late foul trouble resulting in three penalty conversions. Early dominance from Western, however, proved to be the difference in the 9-5.5 victory.
Playing close to home gave Western an edge for both the environment and the horsepower throughout the tournament. “I knew these fields already, I felt comfortable and my horses thrived up here,” mentioned Bossom, who played in NYTS for the second time despite his young age of 16. “It was like playing in my backyard,” said Miranda who travelled from Hawaii (last year’s competition required a flight to the Midwest). Kerley entered the tournament for the first time due to the close proximity. “I got the call the past two years, but it didn’t work out… This year with California, having my own horses, it was now or never.” Building on a successful year, Kerley is also a member of Team USPA. “It’s incredible. It’s such an honor to be part of that team.”
“Play NYTS. It’s a lot of fun and teaches you to play man-to-man a lot better.” – Piers Bossom
NYTS provided an opportunity for the young players to receive coaching from the esteemed Memo Gracida after the first round of games, while also having guidance from 7-goaler Bray. Not familiar with a couple of his players, Bray turned to friends Patrick Uretz* and Kimo Huddleston for insight into constructing his line-up. “I like to start the team from the back. So, I started with Piers, because when he has a little bit of time, he hits the ball well. I figured Ryan would be the best mounted he so he would do good playing at the three and controlling the game.”
With no prior knowledge on Miranda or Celis, the advice he gained from fellow players turned out to be exactly what worked well for Western. “Kimo knew Daniel and he told me he likes to work and he’s going to take the man, which was very accurate, so I wanted him at two. For Sebastian, I knew if he is anything like Memo or his uncle JJ Celis, he plays simple polo where they hit the ball the first time and run.” The result was a fast-paced offense that consistently controlled possession en route to the title.
Finishing with a game-high six goals, Kerley was awarded the Matthew Cohen Most Valuable Player Award. Receiving an engraved trophy from Texas Polo, Kerley reflected on the NYTS experience. “I was very impressed by how nice everyone was. I was ready to not talk to anyone and think ‘see you on the field,’ but I couldn’t help myself and everyone was super friendly, and I ended up making a lot of friends.”
Demonstrating exceptional horsepower with his own string of horses, Kerley was also awarded Best Playing Pony for his 15-year-old off-the-track thoroughbred mare Hi Top, registered as Evil Fairy Dust. “That’s the most important award. That’s what I was looking forward to. My parents with all the hard work they put into the horses, it really showed.” Hi-Top recently won the 2021 Medium Goal Horse: Thoroughbred Incentive Program/USPA Thoroughbred of the Year, adding this Best Playing Pony to an already impressive resume. Hi-Top, with her distinct mane, has been a part of the Kerley family since a young age, “My dad got her from my mom as a 3-year-old and we are going to breed her in December,” concluded Kerley.
Receiving the horsemanship award was Eastern’s Augustus Grotnik. “It was amazing to get the Horsemanship Award especially with so many great riders and players. The horses I had were excellent and I was lucky enough to spend a little time with their owner Rodrigo Salinas the day before the tournament to learn a little bit about each of them,” shared Grotnik, who revelled in the NYTS experience. “NYTS was even better than I imagined. The USPA and the Gracidas really put on an amazing event.”
An event that displays the finest junior polo in the country, sportsmanship is a key element of the competition and Central’s Landen Daniels was presented with the Sportsmanship Award in his final year of competition. “It is always an honor to win an award and sportsmanship is one I take closely to heart. Of course, I wanted to win this year, but it is not always our year. I had a great time and while NYTS will always be a part of my life, it is the end of an era,” reflected Daniels, who won last year’s title.
Earlier in the day, Central defeated Eastern (Augustus Grotnik, Rehan Kumble, Vlad Tarashansky, Lars Neumann) 5-2 in the consolation final with Lance Stefanakis leading all players with four goals and a combined team effort defensively from Daniels, Metternick and Lequerica contributing to the three-goal win.
NYTS provides the opportunity for young players to compete and learn from some of the best players in the sport. “I got a lot of advice for playing the number two position and how to take out the man a lot stronger” shared Miranda, while teammate Bossom said, “it teaches you to play man-to-man a lot better.” As the sun set on the West Coast, Bossom had one final message for any future competitors. “Play NYTS. It’s a lot of fun.”
*Ryan Kerley is an Active Member of Team USPA. Jesse Bray and Patrick Uretz 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 ©Kerri Kerley.
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