“This is my first season with Tonkawa, it has always been a dream of mine to play with one of these top teams and I was super excited. Sapo is an amazing player and great to be around because he gives us all confidence.” – Tonkawa’s Sterling Giannico
Going head-to-head in a passionate final which would decide the winner of the 2018 Joe Barry Cup, undefeated teams Tonkawa and Modere met Sunday, January 28, to settle the score at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Florida. Although Modere played with renewed energy and strategy in the second half, Tonkawa’s unity proved insurmountable and they rode away with the title 12-9.
Eager to get on the board, Sterling Giannico nailed a fast backshot to goal, capitalizing on Modere’s broken play at the goal mouth and scoring first for Tonkawa. As the first half progressed, it was clear that Tonkawa was working as a well-orchestrated team, shutting down their biggest offensive threat in Hilario Ulloa at every opportunity. Goals continued to elude Modere as several missed shots went wide both on the field and from the penalty line, ending the second 5-1 in favor of Tonkawa. Determined to get Tonkawa’s early lead under control, the third chukker saw aggressive plays by both teams continue, leading to the third yellow card of the day against Hilario Ulloa. Fighting every stride for their second goal, Ulloa finally caught a lucky break and ran to goal while teammate Jared Zenni* held off two strong defenders. Tripling the scoreboard at halftime 6-2, Tonkawa would see a different Modere return to challenge them in true second half style.
Finding their footing in the second half, Modere kicked their game into high gear with four additional goals in the fourth. Slowly creeping up the scoreboard, Ulloa converted two penalty shots in the fifth for the ultimate comeback, tying the score 8-all.
Matching Lusarreta’s attempt to break the tie, Modere leveled the scoreboard again 9-all heading into the final chukker. Ultimately the “green machine” powered by Caset could not be stopped, scoring eight out of Tonkawa’s 12 total goals, just above his goals per game (GPG) tournament average of 6.5.
In a final that became a battle between the two 10-goal captains, Caset led his team to victory and simultaneously achieved the first high-goal tournament win of the season. “Modere was really tough. We controlled the first half, but I think they had a really strong fourth chukker and they came back into the game,” Caset said. “At that point, it was anyone’s game, it was really tight and they fought hard; Hilario is really tough. In the last chukker we got the advantage and were able to keep it.”
The Joe Barry Cup, started in 2005, honors the great polo legend Joe Barry, who passed away in 2002. Appropriately, Tonkawa’s home base is in Houston, Texas, and with Barry originally from Texas, the title will return to his home state. In honor of her late husband, Sharon Barry presented awards at the tournament final. Most Valuable Player was awarded to Tonkawa’s team captain Sapo Caset. Best Playing Pony honors went to Lavinia Castellana, Ulloa’s six-year-old homebred mare whom he rode in the second and sixth chukker.
*Jared Zenni is a member 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 ©David Lominska