Falling just short in the first game of tournament play, FMB Too! proved to be unphased by their early defeat, remaining strong throughout bracket play to earn a place in the Belmond El Encanto Robert Skene Trophy Final. Challenging Bracket I finalist Bensoleimani.com for the championship on Sunday, July 21, at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club in Carpinteria, California, FMB Too! carried the lead in five of the six chukkers to secure a narrow 12-11 win.
Dominating throughout the first half, FMB Too! capitalized from both the penalty line and the field, widening the gap through a combination of precision and explosive momentum. Capturing six rapid goals to Bensoleimani.com’s single goal within the first two chukkers, FMB Too! set the pace from the beginning, forcing their opponents into a reactive strategy. Breaking the silence of the second, Bensoleimani.com’s Matias Torres Zavaleta scored first from the field in the third, followed closely by teammate Santi Von Wernich. Retaliating from the penalty line, Felipe “Pipe” Marquez converted a Penalty 2, the half ending in favor of FMB Too! 7-4. “We had a tough beginning losing our first game of the tournament, but we progressed and started playing better with the guidance of our coach Julio Zavaleta,” Marquez recounted.
Returning to the field determined to put pressure on the leading team, Bensoleimani.com gradually began to close the gap, outscoring FMB Too! in the fourth and fifth. Delivering twice from the Penalty 2 line in the fourth, Tomas Alberdi’s* consistent accuracy narrowed the score to within two. Coming alive in a strong fifth chukker push to overtake the lead, Bensoleimani.com demonstrated exceptional offensive skills as they rallied with renewed force to make their comeback. Seizing three field goals, bringing his total to five, Von Wernich’s efforts propelled Bensoleimani.com into the lead for the first time in the game. Now the frontrunners 10-9 at a critical point in the game, Von Wernich opened the sixth strong with yet another goal. Suddenly in jeopardy of having the tournament slip from their grasp, FMB Too! focused their collective sights on the win, adding three final goals (including a goal from team owner Henry Walker) to gain the advantage and earn the title 12-11.
The win was particularly significant for Benjamin Avendaño whose father’s name is also etched on the trophy. “I found out the day before the final that my dad had won it exactly 10 years before so I was nervous the entire morning before the game started,” Avendaño shared. “Sadly my father couldn’t make it, but my little brother and my mom were there. After we won I was happy about how the team played and how we were organized. It was a really close game, but I tried not to pay attention to the scoreboard because we knew that at any moment they could come back.”
Responsible for half of FMB Too!’s 12 total goals, Santi Wulff was named Most Valuable Player. Having known each of the players on his team for a while, Wulff found their familiarity to be very compatible on the field. “The idea coming into the final was to play open and classic polo. It worked out well in the first four chukkers, but in the fifth chukker they kept the ball away from us,” Wulff said. “Coming into the sixth, we talked with Zavaleta about strategy including how to stay closer to the man and how to separate the other team as much as we could. I think the key of today’s win was that we remained focused and we always trusted and believed in ourselves.”
Best Playing Pony honors were awarded to Ben Soleimani’s Machitos Abeja (Chelo x Tortuga), a 9-year-old mare from Mariano Aguerre’s breeding operation played by Santi Von Wernich in the second and sixth chukkers.