Gladiator Polo™ presented by Coca-Cola® returned to Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in Mill Spring, North Carolina, Friday, June 8, to kick off the “Battle for the Carolinas” Series presented by Coca-Cola® with the “Battle for South Carolina.” Team Greenville emerged victorious at the close of six chukkers, with a final score of 11-7. Both were sponsored by Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP).
Team Greenville, comprised of Jared “The Fuego from San Diego” Sheldon*, Pelon “Bam Bam” Escapite, and Jared “Soco” Zenni*, held the lead throughout the entire match and surged ahead in the second half to lead by five. Team Spartanburg – comprised of Obregon brothers Juan Martin “The Stitcher”, Facundo “Chachi”, and Geronimo “Chori” – put up a fierce fight in the last chukker, but were unable to close the gap and avenge last season’s defeat. Team Greenville is chasing their own revenge: in last year’s $50,000 “Battle for the Carolinas” Final presented by Coca-Cola®, Team Asheville prevailed 14-10.
Escapite was named Most Valuable Player (MVP), scoring six points throughout the intense competition, but his teammates are well-decorated, too: Zenni recently won the U.S. Open Polo Championship® and was named MVP, and Sheldon is a back-to-back winner of the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship®.
Escapite complimented his two new teammates and emphasized how important crowd energy was to their performance. “This year is a different crew. I played against Jared Zenni last year in Gladiator Polo™, and I have played outdoor with Jared Sheldon this past year. To get in here and come out with this win is very important,” he continued. “We needed a little bit of time to figure each other out, but after the third chukker we really worked well together. [Both Sheldon and I] are aggressive players, and it took us until the fifth chukker to click. Having Jared Zenni on the team, he brought a lot of energy and he played very consistent throughout the whole game and I think that kept us very honest,” he added.
Newcomer to Gladiator Polo™ and to Team Greenville, Sheldon noted that the innovative sport took a little bit of adjustment: “This arena definitely took me three chukkers to figure out, especially the angles on the goals,” he admitted. “The game was fun, fast, open, and there were not too many penalties. It was so much fun overall and I’m looking forward to coming back for the finals on June 23! We want the crowd to get as rowdy as possible and we want everyone to come on out,” he emphasized.
Zenni has now participated in three Gladiator Polo™ matches at TIEC, and notched his first win with Team Greenville tonight. “It feels great to finally win,” he recounted. “I had never played arena polo before Gladiator Polo™, so it has taken me a little while to figure it out and adapt to it. It is a totally different game, but every time I play I am able figure it out and read my teammates better, and tonight they played amazing.”
Zenni echoed Escapite’s emphasis on the importance of a great crowd on Saturday, June 23. “I’m really excited for the Final,” said Zenni. “I think the crowd is going to be amazing and a lot of fun. I love when the crowd gets into it and they start yelling and cheering for Team Greenville and South Carolina. When you are a player, you get pretty tired, you wouldn’t think we get pretty tired, but we do, so the having the fans behind us really makes a difference in that last half.”
Gladiator Polo™ was inspired by Mark Bellissimo, CEO of International Equestrian Group (IEG) and Managing Partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP) and Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP), who understood that the sport of polo was in desperate need of revitalization in order to attract and broaden its traditional audience base. Combining elements of both field polo and arena polo, the concept of Gladiator Polo™ took form in Wellington, Florida, during the annual high-goal season in South Florida and from there, the game expanded and has garnered both a national and international following. This is the second season that Gladiator Polo™ has been played at TIEC.
The “Battle for the Carolinas” Series presented by Coca-Cola® continues Saturday, June 16, with the “Battle for North Carolina,” which will see Team Asheville (sponsored by Ingles Markets) battle Team Charlotte (sponsored by the North Carolina Education Lottery). The winner will advance to meet Team Greenville for the coveted final on Saturday, June 23.
Asado and VIP tickets for “Battle for North Carolina” and “Battle for the Carolinas” presented by Coca-Cola are already on sale and available for purchase! Click here to purchase your tickets today!
All photos ©TIEC.
*Jared Zenni is a member of Team USPA. Jared Sheldon is a Team USPA Alumni. 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.