Defending champion Flexjet made it two in a row Thursday in the United States Arena Handicap Polo Championship at Aspen Valley Polo Club in Carbondale, Colorado. On a perfect day for polo, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada 8, Juan Bollini 6) rallied in the second half to defeat The Polo School (Aiden Meeker A, Carlitos Gracida 5, Nic Roldan 8), 14-10 in front of a local crowd and worldwide USPA Polo Network audience.
Fourteen-year-old Aiden Meeker of Fort Worth, Texas, playing well above his A handicap in his arena championship debut was named Most Valuable Player. Meeker, a freshman at Culver Academy, scored two goals in the semifinals and one in the final while defending some of the sport’s top players including Argentine brothers Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada.
“It was really fun to play with new players,” said Meeker, who has been playing polo for two years. “Normally, I play with people I’m used to that aren’t rated as high. I didn’t expect to be MVP, it was fun to get on the horses and play. I like playing polo. It’s a whole new experience going full-speed, down the field and hitting a ball and trying to make a really nice shot. I got to meet a bunch of people who were super nice.”
In an action-packed final, Alejandro Novillo Astrada scored a game-high eight goals and finished with 19 in two games. Bollini added four goals and finished with nine goals. For The Polo School, Roldan led with six goals and finished with 11 goals in two games and Gracida added a two-pointer and finished with five.
For the second year in a row, Flexjet was the most dominant team in the four-team field scoring 32 goals in two games. Last year Flexjet scored 43 goals in three games. Flexjet converted 11 of 18 shots from the field while The Polo School was 8 of 17. Flexjet dominated the throw-ins, 10-2. The Polo School led in fouls, 7-2. Flexjet made 3 of 7 penalty conversions and The Polo School was 0 for 2.
The one-day tournament, played in 72-degree weather and under clear skies, lived up to expectations. In the final, The Polo School led 3-2 at the half behind Roldan’s two goals and one by Meeker. Alejandro Novillo Astrada took charge in the second half enabling Flexjet to outscore The Polo School, 6-3 in the third chukker and 11-4 for the second half.
Earlier in the day in the semifinal round, Flexjet broke open a close game in the fourth and final chukker to defeat Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne 2, Lucas Lalor 6, Kris Kampsen 9), 18-13, to advance into the championship final. Flexjet outscored Mountain Chevrolet, 6-3 in the final chukker.
Kampsen, the top-ranked arena player at nine goals, scored all 13 of his team goals. Alejandro Novillo Astrada led Flexjet with nine goals. Bollini had four goals and Melissa Ganzi added three goals. Flexjet was hot from the field, hitting 14 of 19 shots and was 1- of- 2 in penalty conversions. Mountain Chevrolet was 8- of- 22 and 3 for 3 in penalty shots. The teams were even on throw-ins, 4-4, but Mountain Chevrolet led in fouls, 10-7.
In the other semifinal game, The Polo School edged Casablanca (Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8, Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4), 12-11, on Roldan’s 15-yard penalty conversion in the final 25 seconds. Roldan led The Polo School with a game-high eight goals and Meeker added two. Bollini led Casablanca with six goals, Novillo Astrada had four and Ganzi added one. The Polo School was 7 of 14 in field shot conversions and Casablanca was 8 of 15. The Polo School was 3 of 3 in penalty shots and Casablanca was 2 of 3. The Polo School led in fouls, 6-4, and dominated the throw-ins, 7-3.
The annual arena event dates back to 1980 and is a national USPA tournament played at medium goal level. In the past, the tournament has been played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship® at Country Farms Polo Club in Medford, New York. With the majestic 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over four seasons. The 2018 summer season features 13-tournaments including 10 grass tournaments including the inaugural August 31 – September 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments.
All photos ©Chiarofoto/Aspen Valley Polo Club