Knocking out both regional finalists from last year, the Western and Central regions remained to contest the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship Final Cecil Smith Cup on Sunday, September 2, at Columbine Polo & Equestrian Center, LLC in Littleton, Colorado. Designed with player development in mind, NYTS was created in 2013 and is the first national outdoor tournament series for youth competitors—providing opportunities to compete with and against their peers. Trailing their opponents moving into the fourth chukker, Central pulled together as a team and gained momentum in the final minutes to ultimately pull off a narrow victory 6-5.5 and their first championship title.
Eager to close the initial deficit with Western gaining one-and-a-half goals on handicap, Central came out swinging. Vaughn Miller Jr.’s second shot on goal found its mark as the first goal of the day. Forcing his way through a pack of defenders at the goal mouth, Will Walton secured a second point, overtaking the lead by the end of the first chukker 2-1.5. As the first half progressed, the Western players switched their strategy to simple man-to-man polo, implementing tactical defensive and offensive plays. Driving towards the goal with a Central defender poised for the hook, Western’s Riley Jordan operated as a true forward, nailing the neckshot and regaining the lead to end the half 3.5-2.
Both teams played their strongest chukker after halftime, firing goals immediately one after the other with renewed force and intentional attack. Picking up the ball left to him by Miller, Grayson Price opened the third with his first powerful run to goal, but was quickly matched by two back-to-back goals from the Western team. With only the handicap deficit separating the two teams headed into the final chukker, Central knew they would have to strike fast and prevent Western from doing the same.
“Our strategy was to simplify our polo more than we did in the semifinal so instead of turning we just hit a hard, straight back shot. It really helped because we made some breakaways and definitely got the ball moving which was key.” – Grayson Price
Gaining momentum and firing repeatedly on goal in the fourth, Central forced Western to be reactive on the field. Receiving a favorable Penalty 4 opportunity, Price stepped to the line to take a shot he practiced for, hitting a powerful, game-winning shot past defenders to seal the championship 6-5.5 in favor of Central. “One piece of advice Coach told me was when you get to the line don’t think at all,” Price revealed. “He said pretend it’s practice and you are hitting the ball for fun because it helps you to be more focused, and that’s exactly what I did.”
Turning the game around in the final chukker, coach Mason Wroe attributes it to his team playing four-man polo. “We had a little bit of luck at the end, but the kids held together and when it got tough they relied on each other,” Mason Wroe* said. “It’s really special to see them keep their composure and pull together as a team.”
The NYTS Championship Most Valuable Player was awarded to Central’s Vaughn Miller Jr., who scored half of the total winning goals. Eastern’s Brennan Wells was presented with the Sportsmanship Award and Malia Bryan received the Horsemanship Award. Best Playing Pony was presented to Pebeta, played by Bayne Bossom and owned by Luis Sarcco. In the consolation match, the Eastern Region coached by Tiger Kneece outscored the Florida Region coached by Jared Zenni* 5-3.5.
Black’s Offensive Dominance Earns First Girls All-Star Challenge Title
Preceding the NYTS Championship Cecil Smith Cup Final was the all new Girls All-Star Challenge Final, featuring eight of youth polo’s best up-and-coming females from across the country. Qualifying by being selected as an All-Star at a National Youth Tournament Series Qualifier, these young women were the first group invited to play in an all-girls invitational tournament over Championship Weekend, created due to the growing trend of women in polo. After defeating White by three-and-a-half goals in their first game on Friday, August 28, Black was on track to win the tournament, determined by best record over the course of the two days. Black again came out on top with a decisive victory 6.5-1 and carried their winning offensive strategy into Sunday’s final, Black put the pressure on from chukker one, adding a Penalty 2 conversion and field goal to their half goal awarded on handicap. Charging back and forth across the field, both teams struggled to put the ball through the posts in the second, each with several shots falling wide over the backline. In response to Black’s early intensity, White made a strong offensive push just before halftime, but despite their efforts the chukker ended 2.5-0 in favor of Black.
Unable to catch a break in the third, White was denied a successful goal at every turn, Athena Malin’s carefully aimed shot was deflected by a defender’s swift backshot. Capitalizing on every play and sticking to the man, Black added two more goals to their tally, Cory Williams expertly stealing the ball on the nearside to score. “Every time you play with a new team you learn more about yourself as a player,” Williams commented. “Only two of us had known each other prior to coming here, but we all ended up becoming really close by the end of the weekend.”
Entering the fourth and final chukker and still yet to put a point on the board, White was desperate to push past the strong offensive line. Her swing just missing the ball, Hope Kerley’s broken knock in resulted in another goal for Black. Rallying, White finally implemented a strategic team play, creating the opportunity for Kerley to score the single goal for her team. The power play came too late, however, and Black rode away with the win 6.5-1.
“It’s great to be part of this tournament as a coach because I get to give back to NYTS which I was a part of,” Black Coach Jim Wright* said. “We had a very balanced team who are all very aggressive with the man. They rotated well, got behind each other and put the pressure on like they have been playing together for a while. It’s not an easy thing to do and they fit together like a glove.”
The Girls All-Star Challenge Most Valuable Player was awarded to Cory Williams, contributing three pivotal goals in the final for Black. White’s Athena Malin was selected for the Sportsmanship Award, Black’s Olivia Uechtritz received the Horsemanship Award, and Best Playing Pony was presented to Polola, played by Hope Kerley and owned by Micaela Saracco.
*Mason Wroe is a Team USPA Alumni and Jared Zenni and Jim Wright are current members of Team USPA. Patrick Uretz and Steve Krueger, also Team USPA alumni members coached the Western and White team, respectively. 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.
About the United States Polo Association®
The U.S. Polo Association was organized and exists for the purposes of promoting the game of polo, coordinating the activities of its Member Clubs and Registered Players, arranging and supervising polo tournaments, competitions and games, and providing rules, handicaps, and conditions for those tournaments, competitions, and games including the safety and welfare of participants and mounts.
Founded in 1890, the United States Polo Association (USPA) is the national governing body for the sport of polo. USPA is currently comprised of almost 300 member clubs with thousands of individual members, and oversees 40 national tournaments. For more information, please visit uspolo.org.
About Columbine Polo & Equestrian Center, LLC
The Columbine Polo & Equestrian Center, LLC, is just 30 minutes from downtown Denver, Colorado, and sits at the front range of the scenic Rocky Mountains. Its extensive facilities include two regulation polo fields, a stick-and-ball field, quarter-mile track, scenic trails from the barn to the fields, two indoor arenas (heated in winter), an outdoor arena, boarding for 200 horses, 10 tack rooms, a clubhouse and a complete outdoor barbecue area. The 2018 polo season opened in June and runs through September with polo lessons available in conjunction with Denver Polo Club in Littleton, Colorado.