Two wins a piece in bracket play, Whitehall Ranch rivaled Tonkawa in the Western Challenge Final on Sunday, June 3, at the Houston Polo Club in Houston, Texas. Overturning the green team’s persistent lead in the fifth chukker, Whitehall Ranch’s aggressive offensive tactics ultimately enabled them to seize the trophy 9-8.
Gaining one goal on handicap, Tonkawa controlled the scoreboard throughout the first half, Tommy Biddle firing with deadly accuracy from the penalty line. Taking a spot hit penalty, Sterling Giannico executed a pass to forward Toly Ulloa who claimed the first goal of the game for Whitehall Ranch. Adding two powerful field goals to Tonkawa’s tally, Matt Coppola’s* offensive attack landed his team 4-2 headed into the third chukker. As play intensified, Giannico retaliated with two consecutive goals, the second an excellent run directly from the lineup for the score. However, costly plays by Whitehall Ranch allowed Biddle the opportunity to capitalize twice more from the Penalty 2 line, ending the half 6-4 in favor of Tonkawa.
Opening the fourth with an impressive Penalty 4 conversion, Giannico immediately followed it up with a cut shot goal, lighting up the scoreboard in the second half. “The final was intense and we were going man to man on every play. It wasn’t easy in the first half because the team wasn’t clicking well, but we pulled it together at halftime and came out in the second half to pull off the win.” Silencing Tonkawa for the first time in the fifth, Whitehall Ranch began to shift the dynamics on the field as they fought relentlessly to carry the ball past Tonkawa’s strong defense. Nailing the ball to goal from 80-yards out to goal, Giannico’s passionate advance successfully moved Whitehall Ranch into the lead for the first time 8-7 with only one chukker remaining. Working strategically as a team to move the ball down field, Ulloa’s neckshot proved the deciding goal. Adding a single goal in the sixth, Coppola kept the game within one, but Whitehall Ranch was able to hold them off for a close final score of 9-8.
Responsible for six of Whitehall Ranch’s nine goals, two each in the third, fourth and fifth chukkers, Sterling Giannico was named Most Valuable Player. “My experience here in Houston was amazing!” Giannico exclaimed. “I never had the chance to play here until Whitehall Ranch gave me the opportunity. I’m very excited to end the season here winning two of three 12-goal tournaments.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Lavinia Infama, a mare owned by Toly Ulloa and played by Facundo Obregon in the fourth chukker. Recently, Ulloa played her in their first tournament together, winning the Land Rover Houston Central Cup for Whitehall Ranch. Lavinia Infama, one of the Ulloa family’s homebred polo ponies, is a product of the same breeding operation which won the 2018 International Polo Club Best String of the Season award.
*Cody Ellis and Matt Coppola are members of Team USPA. 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 ©Monique Brooks/Houston Polo Club