Concluding three weeks of competition, BTA (Kelly Beal, Whistle Uys, Mason Wroe*, Steve Krueger*) and Old Pueblo (Leigh Anne Hall, Duilio Diaz, Cody Ellis*, Jeff Hall) rose above a deep field of nine teams to reach a head-to-head showdown for the H. Ben Taub Memorial on Friday, September 23, at Houston Polo Club (HPC) in Houston, Texas.
Held in honor of medical executive, philanthropist, and Houston native H. Ben Taub, the final of the 12-goal tournament featured three Team USPA alumni and many perennial HPC members competing for the coveted trophy. Both holding undefeated 3-0 records, BTA and Old Pueblo’s evenly-matched rosters demonstrated offensive power on both sides with BTA’s Krueger and Old Pueblo’s Ellis each putting up five-goal performances, but BTA’s steadfast defense ultimately pushed them over the top to claim the title 7-5.
“It was very even on the field, and nobody could get an easy goal – that’s what made it a fun game, you had to work for every goal that was scored.” – Steve Krueger
Building the 2022 rendition of BTA with Krueger, Wroe shared the importance of familiarity and friendships when assembling the team. “BTA is a great organization- I’ve basically grown up with them. My dad went to high school with Steve’s dad and he used to work for them. I’ve known Steve forever and we talked over the summer about bringing Whistle onboard. Steve played with him a little bit in Wyoming, and I played with him last winter – he’s a great addition. He’s one of the best guys to have around in your camp, he’s well mounted, knowledgeable and works very hard.”
BTA’s Whistle Uys drives the ball ahead of Old Pueblo’s Duilio Diaz.
Relying on a consistent but flexible style of play, Uys reflected on BTA’s ability to enter the final undefeated, “The chemistry on our team is very good. [We] rotate very well and try to hit the ball because we are an open style team. We try to keep it simple and mark our opponents as hard as we can to try and take time away from them. Steve and Mason are playing really well, Kelly is well positioned and has made clutch plays that have helped us retrieve the ball.”
Echoing Uys’ sentiments, Krueger noted, “It’s a fun team – everybody respects each other and plays very selfless polo. We have our set positions and set plays, but where you end up is kind of where you end up – and everyone’s comfortable [playing] in every position.”
Old Pueblo’s Cody Ellis and BTA’s Steve Krueger traded eight combined goals in the first half.
Controlling play from the outset, three-goals from Krueger put BTA out to an early 3-1 lead, with Old Pueblo’s Ellis answering for his team’s lone goal of the chukker. With each team finding their defensive strides in the second, a tight chukker concluded with just one successful drive off the mallet of Ellis to bring Old Pueblo back within one. Trading goals once more to open the third, Krueger kept the pressure on for BTA, while Ellis finally managed to outscore BTA on back-to-back drives to end the first half 4-all.
Entering the half in a close, low scoring affair, Krueger noted, “It was an even game all the way through and there weren’t a lot of open goals. It was very even on the field, and nobody could get an easy goal – that’s what made it a fun game, you had to work for every goal that was scored.”
Cody Ellis accounted for all of Old Pueblo’s offensive efforts scoring five goals.
Giving credit to the talents of Old Pueblo, Wroe stated, “Cody Ellis is coming off an exceptional year playing high goal in Florida and in Spain with Polito Pieres, so he’s an up-and-coming threat in the polo world. Jeff Hall is extremely well mounted and probably one of the best and most consistent American players of my lifetime.” Prepared for a spirited second half, Wroe continued, “We knew they were going to be tough, and they had a good game plan, we just had to focus on our plan, play complimentary polo, move the ball and grind it out.”
Contributing all BTA’s goals in the first half, Krueger was back on the scoreboard to open the fourth, as BTA finally created some separation from Old Pueblo, with a goal from Uys and a Penalty 1 automatic goal lifting BTA to a 7-4 lead. Shutting out Old Pueblo in the fourth, BTA’s defense was back on patrol in the fifth chukker, limiting Ellis to a single goal to hold on for the 7-5 victory.
“We knew they were going to be tough, and they had a good game plan, we just had to focus on our plan, play complimentary polo, move the ball and grind it out.” – Mason Wroe
“I feel like we were able to force them into a couple of mistakes and we capitalized on those mistakes. That was the difference,” said Wroe. He continued, “It was a tight back-and-forth game and probably one of the more fun games that I’ve played. It was fast, open, fun polo – so you can’t ask for anything more.” Taking home his fourth (2017, 2019, 2020) H. Ben Taub Memorial title, Wroe added, “It’s a great tournament to win – [H. Ben] was a great man, philanthropist and a good man in polo. It’s always fun to play with BTA, we work really hard for each other, we hustle, and we don’t quit.”
Steve Krueger led BTA with five goals in the final.
“I feel like we were able to force them into a couple of mistakes and we capitalized on those mistakes. That was the difference.” – Mason Wroe
Accounting for all but one of BTA’s goals, Steve Krueger was named Most Valuable Player. “Winning any USPA tournament is special,” said Kreuger. “It means a lot to me because we put this team together to be a fun team that Kelly [my father-in-law] would enjoy, and it’s a bonus when everything works out and you win.” “Steve was the MVP of the whole tournament,” expressed Uys. “He is playing with such confidence and very strong all the way around. [He’s] mounted well and that’s also one of our best things – our horses are going very well.”
Most Valuable Player Steve Krueger (Carty and Shirley), received a SUP board, presented by Kitch Taub.
Evita (Eva x Successful Ways), played and owned by Cody Ellis, received Best Playing Pony. “I bought [her] from Charlie Armstrong two years ago out of his breeding [operation],” shared Ellis, “I played her in the third chukker and she has tremendous power – I have a lot of confidence on her to win plays.”
Best Playing Pony Evita, played and owned by Cody Ellis, presented by Kitch Taub and pictured with Kathryn Rizeakos.
Speaking to the resurgence of 12-goal polo at HPC, Wroe stated, “There’s nine good teams playing in this tournament, it’s remarkable to see that. To be honest, we weren’t sure where the future of polo was going to go here. The Brookshire Polo Club [Brookshire, Texas] put a fun 12-goal league together last year and it’s really what made this tournament come together. We have to give credit to Martin Munoz and Brookshire Polo Club for bringing 12-goal polo back to the Houston area, and to the Houston Polo Club staff for getting everyone together.”
“We have to give credit to Martin Munoz and Brookshire Polo Club for bringing 12-goal polo back to the Houston area, and to the Houston Polo Club staff for getting everyone together.” – Mason Wroe
Holding a brief celebration with little time for reflection, BTA is already back in 12-goal action at HPC in the Southwestern Circuit Master’s Cup. Scheduled to face Brown Bears (Will Brown, Robert Orthwein, Shane Rice, Nicolai Galindo*) on Wednesday, September 28, BTA is continuing their level-headed approach with Uys noting, “We know we have to be disciplined because they are a good team – let’s see how it turns out!”
*Mason Wroe, Steve Krueger, Cody Ellis and Nicolai Galindo 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 ©Kaylee Wroe.