Following the success of the Regional-Classic Southwestern, medium-goal polo continued to take center stage with the Western Challenge final at Brookshire Polo Club in Brookshire, Texas. Featuring five 12-goal teams, undefeated Eureka (Rene Campos, Alvaro Ara, Jorge Cernadas, Robert Orthwein) met a 2-1 Brookshire Polo (Scott Wood, Toto Collardin, Martin Muñoz, Francisco Rodriguez-Mera) for the first time in the competition in Sunday’s final on June 5. Taking firm control of the contest from the outset of play, an early five-goal lead highlighted Brookshire Polo’s ability to convert from the penalty line and create space in the field to hold off a fifth chukker push from Eureka and claim the Western Challenge title 10-7. 

Brookshire Polo's Toto Collardin opened the scoring for a three-goal unanswered run in the first chukker.

Brookshire Polo’s Toto Collardin opened the scoring for a three-goal unanswered run in the first chukker.

Fresh off a victory with Old Pueblo in the Regional-Classic Southwestern, Collardin set Brookshire Polo off to a quick start with a successful Penalty 4 that was soon followed by Muñoz on back-to-back field goals to give their team an early 3-0 advantage. Commenting on Brookshire Polo’s ability to set the tone early in the match Muñoz shared, “we focused on starting from the basics—taking the man first and the rest will come along. I feel like we have a very good rotation in the middle, and I played a little more forward than usual, but the main difference was Scott always taking one of the 4-goalers out of the play.”

Collardin added, “my strategy was to focus on always marking a man and anticipating the play, while trying to move the ball to make the game fast and open. It’s the anticipation and the team willing to work together to always be in the right position at the right time.”

Brookshire Polo's Francisco Rodriguez-Mera taps the ball downfield alongside Eureka's Jorge Cernadas.

Brookshire Polo’s Francisco Rodriguez-Mera taps the ball downfield alongside Eureka’s Jorge Cernadas.

Following the second Penalty 4 of the match from Eureka’s Ara, the efforts of Brookshire Polo continued with three more goals in the second, including two from Rodriguez-Mera. Leading 6-1 after two chukkers of play, another successful conversion from Collardin matched the efforts of a driving Cernadas, as Brookshire Polo entered the break with a commanding 7-2 lead.

“We were focused from the first throw-in on winning our positions with the men and from there we started attacking,” shared Muñoz, “Eureka is a good team, and they play well together. We were lucky to score that many goals in the first part of the game that left us room to control the game in the last half.” Speaking to Brookshire Polo’s team dynamic, Rodriguez-Mera noted, “everyone knew exactly what their job was since we were able to communicate so much both on and off the field.” Despite entering the second half up by five, Rodriguez-Mera stated the importance of steady play adding, “we had to play simple when we had the ball, talk a lot between ourselves and not foul.”

Eureka's leading scorer Jorge Cernadas attempts the hook on Brookshire Polo's Francisco Rodriguez-Mera.

Eureka’s leading scorer Jorge Cernadas attempts the hook on Brookshire Polo’s Francisco Rodriguez-Mera.

After a third goal from Muñoz to open the fourth chukker of play, Eureka’s offense began to come to life with Cernadas and Campos taking control of the field to cut their deficit down to three. Despite Muñoz briefly halting the Eureka’s three-goal run, Ara and Cernadas kept the pressure on in the final minutes of regulation. Leading by just two, one final goal from Rodriquez-Mera in open play ultimately sealed the impressive Western Challenge victory for Brookshire Polo, 10-7.

Brookshire Polo's Francisco Rodriguez-Mera on a breakaway.

Brookshire Polo’s Francisco Rodriguez-Mera on a breakaway.

Celebrating the Western Challenge title, Rodriquez-Mera shared, “with that last goal we were able to create a solid lead that helped us to finish a really difficult final. We had great communication on the field between the four of us and that helped us to play more relaxed.” Collardin, who joined Rodriguez-Mera as the highest-rated players on the team with a 5-goal handicap added, “we were a great combination because each player played the right position, and we were all willing to do what it takes to win. With my experience, I can help the team work together to always be in the right position at the right time.”

Most Valuable Player Martin Muñoz leans into Eureka's Jorge Cernadas.

Most Valuable Player Martin Muñoz leans into Eureka’s Jorge Cernadas.

Leading Brookshire Polo with four goals, Martin Muñoz was awarded Most Valuable Player. Reflecting on his offensive success, Muñoz expressed, “I was focused on my men, and I had two teammates in Toto and Fran that hit the ball really well, and with Scott working the man, allowed me to score those goals.” 

Nochera, a 12-year-old Argentine bay mare played and owned by Rene Campos was named Best Playing Pony. “Rene purchased Nochera from the Ara family in Argentina a few years ago and is one of his favorite horses,” said Muñoz, “he always enjoys playing her in the last chukker, she is easy, comfortable, and has plenty of speed.”

Western Challenge champion Toto Collardin switches ponies.

Western Challenge champion Toto Collardin switches ponies.

Celebrating a resurgence of medium-goal polo in Texas, Muñoz continued, “Jeff Hall, Miguel Torres and I put together a nice league with a great season. We played thirty-two games with five teams competing three times a week, and we just confirmed six teams for the fall season! We are looking forward to the new additions and continuing to work together with Houston Polo Club [Houston, Texas] running the low-goal and us [Brookshire] running the medium-goal. We are trying to put Houston back on the map for medium-goal polo by bringing in great American players like Jeff Hall, Matt Coppola*, Santiago Torres*, Robert Orthwein, Miguel Torres and hopefully many more!”

*Matt Coppola and Santiago Torres 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 ©Tequila Sunsets Photography. 


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