The inaugural Point Clear Invitational/Memorial concluded on Sunday, May 29, with undefeated Hillcroft (Herndon Radcliff*, Manuel Mazzocchi, Ignacio ‘Nachi’ Viana, James Miller) meeting Cessna/Clearwater (Chip Campbell, Camp Campbell, Mariano Obregon, Segundo Saravi) at Point Clear Polo Club in Silverhill, Alabama. “We played Cessna/Clearwater in our first game in the tournament, so we felt good to have gotten away with a win in the first meeting” mentioned Hillcroft team owner Miller, as the two teams met 10 days later in the tournament finale. Racing out to a quick start, Hillcroft was led by a phenomenal 9-goal performance from Viana and an organized defensive effort to earn the 13-6 victory and the first-ever Point Clear Invitational/Memorial title.
In their previous meeting, Hillcroft got off to a slow start, finding themselves trailing by multiple goals at the end of the first half. Mounting a comeback, they sought to bring that energy into the start of the final. “We were losing by three or four against Cessna/Clearwater and in the last three chukkers, we found our way of playing… we pretty much wanted to play that way [in the final],” shared Viana. Scoring four goals in the opening chukker, Viana was instrumental in Hillcroft’s quick start. Strong defensive efforts from the Hillcroft team also allowed them to concede only one goal to Obregon to hold a 4-1 advantage early in the game.
Chip Campbell contributed two goals for Cessna/Clearwater in the Point Clear Invitational/Memorial final.
Defense continued to be a key component to Hillcroft’s first half, limiting Cessna/Clearwater to just three goals, the last of which coming off the mallet of Chip Campbell in the third chukker. “James [Miller] does a fantastic job of defending… There were plays where he was taking Nino [Obregon], where he was taking Segundo Saravi, and those are huge plus plays for us,” mentioned Radcliff. Viana added two more goals and Radcliff added his name to the scoresheet for Hillcroft to end the half ahead 7-3.
In search of offense, Cessna/Clearwater began the second half with another goal from Chip Campbell, but scoring chances proved to be difficult to come by as Hillcroft continued to manage their lead and remain in front by four. With time beginning to run out for Cessna/Clearwater to close the gap, a dominant fifth chukker from Hillcroft all but sealed the game. Viana’s eighth and ninth goals were met with one goal each from Mazzocchi and Miller, resulting in all four Hillcroft players finding the goal and increasing the lead to an overwhelming eight entering the sixth chukker. Late tallies from Camp Campbell and Saravi for Cessna/Clearwater brought their total to six, but the defense of Hillcroft throughout the game was the ‘X’ factor that guided Hillcroft to the 13-6 win.
Hillcroft’s James Miller hits a tailshot.
Playing together over multiple years, Hillcroft has progressed from the 12- to 14-goal level, continuing to win competitions along the way. “This is Hillcroft’s second 14-goal championship in the last nine months and we have three 12-goal championships in the same time frame [including the National Inter-Circuit Championship and National Outdoor Commander-in-Chief Cup],” shared team owner Miller.
Radcliff continued by saying “I’ve played with Nachi [Viana] for a couple years now and I’ve been playing with James [Miller] for coming on six years. He’s really helped me to grow in the sport and also allowed me to be a big part of this organization and see it grow over the years.” The newcomer to the team was Mazzocchi, who completed the roster and stepped seamlessly into Hillcroft’s familiar line-up. “They have been playing tournaments together, so I had to try to adapt to their game and do my best and, in the end, I think it worked.
Part of the 2022 USPA Legacy Series, targeted at increasing the demand for medium-goal tournaments, the Point Clear Invitational/Memorial included four teams who paid tribute to a collective group including Niki Pilot, daughter of Pilot team owner Curtis Pilot, who passed away from breast cancer in 2019. The tournament was also played in honor of Camille Corte and Bo Campbell, the mother-in-law and stepfather of Chip Campbell, as well as George and Les Radcliff. The close familial ties united teams travelling from locations including Texas and Florida to compete in the new 14-goal event.
Most Valuable Player Ignacio “Nachi” Viana led Hillcroft with a phenomenal nine-goal performance.
Finishing with nine goals, Viana was named Most Valuable Player. “I started on a couple of horses that do very well for me and allowed me to start very quick” said Viana, who scored four goals in the opening seven minutes.
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Noche Buena, owned and played by Viana. Meaning Christmas Eve in Spanish, Noche Buena is a 12-year-old jet black mare, hailing from Uruguay and brought to the United States by Viana’s brother Felipe*. “My dad bought her in Uruguay at a farm when she was four and I made her there. I had her for probably two or three years before Felipe, my brother, shipped her here.” Now a key member of Nachi’s string, he said, “I’ve had her for the last year and she’s been playing with me every single game for two chukkers. She has a lot of power and she’s super fast. She’s a pretty complete mare.” Concluding a long season that began in Wellington, Florida, in January Viana reflected on the Best Playing Pony award. “Its is an honor for me and for Cristian Piedrabuena, who has been taking care of the horses for the past five months non-stop. So, I think after a long season playing in Wellington and now here, ending like this was something special for him and us as a team.”
Best Playing Pony Noche Buena, played and owned by Nachi Viana. Pictured with Hugo Alesina and Cristian Piedrabuena.
Showcasing a strong team dynamic, the members of Hillcroft made a pact before the tournament that with a victory, they would celebrate in a unique way. “We made a deal that if we won the tournament, everyone would shave their head. So last night at the barn, we had a big asado, and everyone shaved their heads!” shared Radcliff. Continuing to find success as a team, Hillcroft will certainly try to stay together and compete among the best teams at the 14-goal level. Miller concluded by saying, “As a team we play together and for one another, which is the dynamic every team wishes to find. We give each other a chance to shine and are always willing to help one another. I certainly hope we can keep this team together!”
*Herndon Radcliff and Felipe Viana are 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.
All photos courtesy of ©Dawn Pilot.