By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
Grand Champions’ talented trio of Grant Ganzi, Matias Gonzalez and Santos Bollini will make their debut at the Feb. 19-21 USPA Interscholastic Southeast Region Tournament in Valley Forge, Pa.
The team qualified for the first time with an impressive 17-11 victory over The Polo School’s Juanse Olivera, Lucas and Nico Escobar and Christian Weisz in the regional prelim final on a chilly Monday night at Polo West Arena.
Gonzalez, 17, scored a game-high 11 goals. Ganzi added five goals and Bollini had one.
Gonzalez, Weisz, Lucas Escobar and Justin Daniels of Palm Beach Polo were named to the All-Star team. Olivera was voted the Sportsmanship Award.
“We played together as a team two years ago and lost to Wesley Finlayson, Johnny Lavin and Connell Erb in the prelims final here so we never got to regionals as a team, this is great,” Ganzi said.
Grand Champions girls’ team of Riley Ganzi, Alyssa Tranchilla and Rachel Kelly did not have to compete in a region preliminary and was seeded directly into the Feb. 12-14 USPA Southeast Region Tournament at Marlan Farm in Freeland, Md.
Maryland Girls Interscholastic polo team is two-time national defending champion.
The region tournaments are the final stepping stone to the national tournament.
Grand Champions, coached by pro Jesse Bray, finished the Florida USPA Interscholastic regular season schedule undefeated. The trio defeated The Polo School, 8-4, in the second and final regular season game.
In Saturday night’s opener, The Polo School, coached by polo great Luis Escobar, defeated Palm Beach Polo, 11-5 to advance into Monday’s final. Weisz led with a game-high four goals. Nico Escobar and Olivera each had two goals. Lucas Escobar had one goal. Benji and Justin Daniels each scored two goals.
In the four-chukker final, Grand Champions looked unbeatable jumping out to 6-2 and 10-3 leads after the first two chukkers.
The Polo School took advantage of a Grand Champions letdown and made it interesting in the third chukker rallying behind the hot mallet of Nico Escobar. The Polo School trailed by only three (10-7, 11-8, 12-9) going into the final chukker.
Grand Champions regained its composure in the fourth chukker to score five more goals and seal the victory.
“I thought the game went really well,” Ganzi said. “That third chukker was a little rough but we came back. That shows the signs of a good team coming back and fighting through that.
“I kept telling the boys, we got this, don’t worry about it. That chukker was bad, but we’ve got this next one.”
Grand Champions Polo Club President and USPA Florida Circuit Governor Melissa Ganzi is a longtime supporter of grass roots polo and Polo Training Foundation. She has played a key role in developing young players with the help of The Polo School at Grand Champions and Aspen Valley Polo Clubs.
Most of the horses in the two-day tournament were provided by Grand Champions Polo Club and The Polo School. Google was named Best Playing Pony and The Polo School’s String A was awarded Best Playing String.
Polo Gear CEO Gary Fellers hosted an indoor barbecue for players, parents and fans after the final and provided the arena.
USPA CEO Duncan Huyler and Bob Puetz, Director of USPA Services were among spectators who braved the cold to support the up-and-coming junior players. The game was live-streamed by ChukkerTV.
“I love watching the kids,” Puetz said. “I am so impressed. These guys little by little are figuring the game out. As they figure it out, it gets more exciting to watch because they are so talented.”
The USPA’s Intercollegiate/Interscholastic program helps to promote and grow the sport by providing exposure to the sport; organized competition at regional and national levels with an emphasis on sportsmanship, fairness and safety.
It also helps with recruiting at college and scholastic institutions and coordinating activities of member schools and players.
The Intercollegiate/Interscholastic polo competition is played under USPA arena rules. Each team features three players and alternates.
The Polo School at Grand Champions is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.
GRAND CHAMPIONS 2016 WINTER SCHEDULE
16-Goal: March, Santa Rita Abierto; April, John T. Oxley Memorial Trophy.
12-Goal: January, The Limited Edition 12-Goal: Wednesday, SD Farms vs. Goose Creek, 3:30 p.m.; Jan. 21, Thursday, Flexjet vs. Postage Stamp, 11 a.m.; Dutta Corp. vs. Travieso, 3 p.m.; Jan. 22, Friday, High Ground vs. Mt. Brilliant/Faraway Polo, 11 a.m.; Flexjet vs. SD Farms, 1 p.m.; Jan. 23, Saturday, Patagones vs. Escue Polo, noon; Postage Stamp vs. Goose Creek, 3 p.m.; Jan. 24, Sunday, High Ground vs. Travieso, 10 a.m.; Valiente vs. SD Farms, 10 a.m.; Palm Beach Equine vs. Dutta Corp, noon; Jan. 27, Wednesday, High Ground GSA vs. Dutta Corp, 11 a.m.; Palm Beach Equines vs. Mt. Brilliant/Faraway Polo, 2 p.m.; Jan. 28, Thursday, Goose Creek vs. Flexjet, 10:30 a.m.; SD Farms vs. Postage Stamp Farm, 3 p.m.; Jan. 29, Friday, Palm Beach Equine vs. Travieso, 10 a.m.; Jan. 30, Saturday, Flexjet vs. Valiente, 10:30 a.m.; Mt. Brilliant/Faraway vs. Dutta, 3 p.m.; Feb. 3, Wednesday, Championship Final, 3 p.m.; February, USPA Sieber Memorial Trophy; March, $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament and Top Pony 12-Goal Series; April, Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame Challenge Cup.
8-Goal: January, Aspen Valley Cup: Tuesday, Jan. 26, Travieso vs. Altair, 3 p.m., Odosan vs. SD Farms, 3:30 p.m.; Jan. 29, Friday, Altair vs. SD Farms, 3:30 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 31, Travieso vs. SD Farms, noon; Tuesday, Feb. 2, Championship Final, 10 a.m.; February, USPA Cyril R. Harrison Trophy; March, The Limited Edition 8-Goal Series and USPA Regional President’s Cup; April, USPA Association Cup.
6-Goal: January, Metropolitan Cup: Wednesday, Pony Express vs. Patagones, 4 p.m.; Jan. 23, Saturday, Patagones vs. Escue Polo, 11 a.m.; The Polo School vs. Grand Champions, 1 p.m.; Jan. 24, Sunday, Escue vs. Pony Express, noon; Jan. 27, Wednesday, Shamrock vs. Pony Express, 4 p.m.; Patagones vs. Pony Express, 4 p.m.; Jan. 30, Saturday, Championship Final, 1 p.m.; February, Halo Polo Trophy; March, Madelon Bourdain Memorial; April, Las Acacias.