Casablanca Wins USPA Fall Classic;
Mike Azzaro Named MVP
After getting to three finals and winning back-to-back tournaments, Casablanca is already the most dominant team of the fall season at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
On Saturday at Santa Rita Polo Farm’s Aspen Field, the foursome of Cacho Galindo, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Mike Azzaro edged Team USPA, 9-8, to win the USPA Fall Classic.
In front of a good local crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience, Casablanca held on for the win after leading Team USPA (Matias Gonzalez, Jesse Bray, Felipe Viana, Jimmy Wright) from start to finish.
It was Team USPA’s final appearance after a successful training camp at Grand Champions Polo Club. The team left Sunday for Sydney, Australia, site of the Oct. 21-29 XI FIP World Championship.
Team USPA, which has been practicing and playing on various horses at Santa Rita Polo Farm, is one of eight teams from five world zones and opens up against Argentina on Saturday.
“I think Team USPA is ready for worlds,” Ganzi said. “I really liked the way they played today. They have made a lot of improvements since they started training here. In the beginning, they were missing back shots that were key, tapping the ball and turning it too much. Now on those crucial plays where they need to hit the back shot or hit the ball they do it and I think that’s going to make the difference.”
For the second consecutive week, legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro of Casablanca was selected Most Valuable Player. Azzaro, rated at 6 goals, scored two goals and provided leadership and playmaking on the field for his three young teammates.
Girl Power was chosen Best Playing Pony. The 6-year-old mare was ridden by Ganzi, and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Bollini led Casablanca scoring with four goals and Ganzi added three. Viana led Team USPA scoring with five goals and Wright added three goals including a 230-yard run to goal after taking a knock-in to cut Casablanca’s lead to 9-7 with 3:46 left in the game. Viana converted a 60-yard penalty with 34 seconds left.
Ganzi is a repeat winner of the USPA Fall Classic as a member of the last year’s winning Casablanca team along with MVP Jesse Bray, Jared Sheldon and Tony Calle. It was also the second consecutive tournament victory for Ganzi, Azzaro and Galindo.
Ganzi, 19, and Bollini, 21, are coming off a successful summer polo season at Aspen Valley Polo Club where they finished with five tournament victories as teammates and Casablanca finished with three tournament wins, the most of any team during the summer season.
“Aspen was really special, we just had everything clicking,” Ganzi said. “We had good teammates and playing with Mike obviously helped. We had tough opponents. Juan and I were just on most weekends. We were able to be consistently competitive. I want to improve and my biggest goal is I want to win.
“Today Team USPA was really tight on the man,” Ganzi said. “I think we missed a few, but we missed a lot more the other day. What made the game messy at times was it really wasn’t very open at times, only when there were counter attacks did the play open up. Team USPA closed the game down. We did a good job defensively.”
Casablanca started off strong jumping out to a 4-1 lead early in the second chukker behind two goals by Ganzi. Team USPA started whittling away the lead by the end of the chukker by closing down Casablanca’s open field and playing the man. In the second half, Team USPA cut Casablanca’s lead to one twice (6-5, 7-6) but was unable to overtake them. Casablanca led every chukker, 2-1, 4-3, 6-4, 7-5 and 8-6.
“The whole idea was to win,” Azzaro said. “From my side, I wanted to really challenge our players and let Grant, Juancito and Cacho pick it up. Those boys played awesome today. They came through and did what they needed to do. Grant and Juancito were rotating and making the important plays.
“Team USPA played a really solid game. If they go over and play like they did today, they will win. We were up by three goals but they put pressure us. We made mistakes and they capitalized.”
Azzaro enjoys his playmaking field general role mentoring his teammates. There were several opportunities where he had scoring opportunities but unselfishly passed off to his teammates.
“I don’t want to be that 10-goal player out there dominating the plays, how are they going to learn?” Azzaro said. “When I need to score I do. I understand the boys and I try to play with them. I don’t try to control them, I try to teach them and put the reins in their hands. Everything is positive.”
In the opening Grand Champions Cup subsidiary, Sebucan (Guille Aguero, Pablo Pulido, Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder) edged Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Andres “Lala” LaPlacette, Brandon Phillips, Juan Bollini), 9-8. Sebucan jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second chukker and led 9-6, going into the sixth chukker when Flexjet started reeling them in with goals from Phillips and LaPlacette before running out of time.
Pulido led Sebucan scoring with five goals and Aguero added four goals. All four players on Flexjet each scored two goals.
In the second Aspen Valley Cup subsidiary, Newport (Sergio Silvestre, Gene Goldstein, Pablo Dorignac, Carlitos Gracida) won after the game was called in the third chukker because of heavy rains. Newport was leading Santa Clara (Lucas Escobar, Benjamin Avendano, Kris Kampsen, Luis Escobar), 5-0, with two goals from Dorignac.
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The USPA Fall Classic was the third of six medium goal tournaments along with two 20-goal tournaments, the USPA North American (Oct. 27-Nov. 5) Cup and USPA National 20-Goal (Nov. 8-19) and Nov. 25 doubleheader with the Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup pitting defending champion Team USA against Brazil.
The winner of the season-opening tournament was Audi (Marc Ganzi, Jason Crowder, Brandon Phillips, Carlitos Gracida), 11-10 OT winners over Casablanca and last weekend Casablanca won the US Trust Cup.