The semifinals of the USPA North American Cup lived up to expectations Wednesday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
By Sharon Robb
In the opening semifinal, Santa Rita (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Nic Roldan, 8, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Bollini, 3) led from start to finish to defeat Newport (Gene Goldstein, 1, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Kris Kampsen, 6, Agustin Obregon), 13-11.
In the second semifinal, defending champion Casablanca (Tomacho Pieres, 6, Jason Crowder, 5, Grant Ganzi, 3, Juan Sanchez Elia, 5) rallied in the fifth chukker to win a thrilling 10-9 decision over NetJets (Larry Austin, 0, Sugar Erskine, 6, Jesse Bray, 7, Tommy Biddle, 5).
The winners advance into the championship game at 2:30 p.m. followed by the subsidiary at 4:15 p.m. on Friday.
NetJets, dominating the throw-ins (5-1) in the first half, had the momentum from the opening throw-in. Casablanca got off to a slow start, trailing 3-0 after the first chukker and 4-1 after the first and was playing catch-up for most of the game. Casablanca cut NetJets lead to two, trailing 5-3 at the half.
After a 2-2 fourth chukker, Casablanca turned the game around for a 4-0 fifth chukker behind two goals each by Ganzi and Pieres. With 3:40 left in the fifth, Pieres scored the tying goal (7-7) and a minute later Ganzi’s nearside back shot goal gave his team the lead, 8-7, for the first time.
The lead changed hands two more times before Casablanca took a 10-9 lead at the 2:55 mark with Crowder connecting with Ganzi who scored off a nicely angled shot.
After one missed scoring attempt, NetJets had one final chance with Biddle on the move before a buried ball stopped the offensive attack. With 19 seconds left Bray won the throw-in and worked the ball downfield but time ran out just before NetJets was able to score.
“We didn’t play very well at the beginning,” said Ganzi, Brand Ambassador for Casablanca, playing in his sixth USPA North American Cup in nine years.
“In the fifth chukker I think we finally started putting the ball in the goal. We were playing open and playing as a four-man team as we should. We were listening to each other and making great plays, we just missed a lot of goals.
“We didn’t make a single penalty. Eventually something had to give and luckily it did and luckily we were able to make plays and finish them. It was just a question of finishing them and that’s a credit to our team. It was awesome, I had a lot of fun.”
Casablanca got balanced scoring from its lineup. Ganzi scored a team-high four goals, Pieres had three, Sanchez Elia had two and Crowder added one. Casablanca outshot NetJets, 16-13, and led in throw-ins, 9-8.
Erskine led NetJets with four goals. Bray had two goals and Austin added one.
In the opening game, Santa Rita jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening chukker and never trailed after that. Santa Rita had an 8-5 halftime lead and led 10-6 after four chukkers.
Behind Kampsen’s hot hand, Newport rallied for a 3-1 fifth chukker to trail, 11-9, but could get no closer than two goals. Newport outshot Santa Rita, 23-20, but couldn’t convert on key goals.
Kampsen scored a game-high eight goals and Obregon added three for Newport.
Santa Rita was led by Roldan with a team-high seven goals. Ganzi had three goals, Astrada added two and the team picked up one goal on handicap.
“It means a lot to be in the final,” Grant Ganzi said. “It’s a tournament I love to play in. I always have a lot of fun playing in it. I am lucky to play with the three guys today. We want to try to repeat and win this one.
“We can’t start slowly against Santa Rita like we did today,” Ganzi said. “We have to stop that guy Nic Roldan from scoring so many goals and slow him down a little bit. Whatever it takes.”
The North American Cup is the club’s first of two 20-goal tournaments of the fall season with a rich tradition in history dating back to 1974. The second high goal tournament is the Nov. 7-9 USPA National 20 Goal.
Last year’s winner was Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Kris Kampsen, 6, Jeff Hall, 6, Tommy Biddle, 5). The All American team took a 7-3 halftime lead and went on to cruise to a 12-7 victory over Seminole Casino Coconut Creek (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Jason Crowder, 6, Santi Toccalino, 8, Brandon Phillips, 4/Pablo Spinacci, 6).
One of the nation’s busiest and innovative polo clubs celebrating its 16th anniversary, is hosting both medium goal and high goal leagues. Among the highlights of the season are this week’s USPA North American Cup and Nov. 7-9 USPA National 20-Goal Championship and Nov. 12 doubleheader featuring the Legends of Polo Carlos Gracida Memorial and International Cup. This year the GCPC-USA team will put its 10-year winning streak on the line against Switzerland.
In addition to this weekend’s Fall Plates, the remaining fall medium goal tournament schedule is: Oct. 31-Nov. 6 Tackeria Invitational; and Nov. 14-20 Banyan Final. The Tackeria Invitational has a special place in club history as the inaugural tournament when the club first opened in 2007.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with more than 150 stalls in several self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
Wellington-based ChukkerTV is live streaming the entire fall season. ChukkerTV’s state-of-the art technology features team challenges and instant replay which made their debut at Grand Champions in January, 2014.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm cater to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its’ expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its’ Polo On Demand program at the turnkey facility.
The Polo School, a 501c3 organization and stand-alone USPA club, is dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo at every economic and ability level. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and October through November. For more information on the Fall Leagues or Polo School contact Juan Bollini at 561-346-1099 or Cale Newman at 561-876-2930.