After nearly a month of 8-goal competition at Port Mayaca Polo Club (Okeechobee, Florida), undefeated Poplar Hill (Kyle Rosenstein, Max Secunda, Harrison Azzaro*, Mike Azzaro) met Mint Eco Car Wash (Cecelia Cochran, Tommy Huber, Lucas Arellano*, Jason Wates), who booked their spot in the final after winning a shootout against Riverview.
Meeting earlier in the tournament, Poplar Hill handed Mint Eco Car Wash their only defeat of the tournament in a close 7-6 game, but redemption was on the mind for the team in green. “The game we lost to them [Poplar Hill] ended up close, but it wasn’t really close, they beat us pretty well. Mike [Azzaro] is very fast, so on 50/50 plays, he always made it to the ball before we could. The strategy was to stick to him and whoever was with him was not receiving the ball,” shared captain Jason Wates. Finding themselves down by three goals in the first half, Mint Eco Car Wash charged back with a run of six consecutive goals to take the lead and never look back to claim the Regional President’s Cup title 11-6.
“Any time you get to play on a team like this, you have to take full advantage of it, because they don’t come around every tournament.” – Tommy Huber
A minor roster change from February saw Tommy Huber join Mint Eco Car Wash in place of Hope Arellano, who was competing in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship®, but Huber provided a familiar face for his teammates. “He [Tommy] subbed in for Jason [Wates] one time in an 8-goal at International Polo Club Palm Beach. He’s really fun to play, he’s like a cat! He strikes and he goes, and he’s confident,” stated team owner Cecilia Cochran.
Poplar Hill’s Harrison Azzaro taps the ball with Tommy Huber defending.
The familiarity of having played together before helped propel Mint Eco Car Wash into the final, but they ran into a determined Poplar Hill team that had yet to lose in the tournament. A closely-marked first chukker resulted in the lone goal coming from Mike Azzaro, giving Poplar Hill a narrow one-goal lead. Mint Eco Car Wash struggled to contain Poplar Hill’s fast, open attack in the first two chukkers. “Having Mike Azzaro, who you can tell is a former 10-goaler, he has such a great mind on the field. He reads the plays so well and sets his team up incredibly,” commented Lucas Arellano. Young Harrison Azzaro contributed a Penalty 2 conversion and a field goal, along with a field goal from Max Secunda Poplar Hill quickly extended their lead to four, leaving Mint Eco Car Wash with the difficult task of mounting a comeback. Ending their scoreless drought, Wates sent the ball through the posts before the end of the chukker to get his team on the scoreboard, trailing 4-1.
Poplar Hill’s Max Secunda on a breakaway with Mint Eco Car Wash’s Tommy Huber in pursuit.
Entering the third chukker, Mint Eco Car Wash displayed a determined attack that helped them fight their way back into the game. Arellano kicked off the scoring for Mint Eco Car Wash in the crucial third chukker. “Even when we were down by three goals going into the third chukker, we were focused and not worried. We just kept focused on playing our game and playing harder every chukker,” relayed Arellano.
Gaining momentum, Mint Eco Car Wash began firing on all cylinders as Huber converted a Penalty 2 and Cochran capped off a 3-0 third chukker with her first goal of the game. “Cecelia stepped up today to score two unbelievable goals, both at key moments in the game. Her first one was much needed, it really got the confidence going for the team,” said Huber. With the third chukker surge, Mint Eco pulled even at 4-4 entering halftime.
Lucas Arellano kicked-off the scoring for Mint Eco Car Wash in the third chukker.
After conceding the first four goals of the game, Mint Eco Car Wash found their stride, carrying their strong play into the second half and pushing their consecutive goal streak to six after Huber’s second penalty goal. Sharing his thoughts behind his successful penalties, Huber stated “I enjoy taking penalties. It’s hard to find a place to stick-and-ball sometimes, but it is the one thing in polo you can practice anywhere, so I practice in my yard a lot. Just easy half-swings. A lot of it is muscle memory, especially for the 2’s and 3’s—you don’t need to kill it.”
Mint Eco Car Wash’s Jason Wates leads the pack carrying the ball down field.
Mike Azzaro responded for Poplar Hill’s first goal since the second chukker, but Mint Eco Car Wash had found their winning strategy and drove forward into the final two chukkers. Cochran’s second goal gave her team a three-goal advantage as Poplar Hill searched for the offensive spark they had in the opening two chukkers. Highlighting an exceptional team effort, Mint Eco Car Wash produced three field goals from the duo of Huber and Arellano to seize the moment and take home the coveted Regional President’s Cup title 11-6.
“I think getting to play with up-and-coming players is so much fun for me…I’ve known these kids for a long time and now they’re bonafide players.” – Cecilia Cochran
Playing together for many years, Cochran and Wates have found consistent success at the 8-goal level in Florida, and with the Regional President’s Cup being their final tournament of the season before turning out, it meant that much more. “Cecelia and I have won an 8-goal tournament at Port Mayaca Polo Club for six years in a row now, so it was great to have another win this year,” Wates said. A strong familial energy was evident with Mint Eco Car Wash. “Playing with Lucas was a pleasure as always, he’s been like a little brother to me since I grew up around Julio [Arellano],” recounted Wates.
Cecelia Cochran contributed two crucial goals to Mint Eco Car Wash’s Regional President’s Cup victory.
Serving as a qualifier for the National President’s Cup since 2020, Mint Eco Car Wash has now secured their place in the 2022 edition during the height of the fall season at New Bridge Polo & Country Club (Aiken, South Carolina). Reflecting on their season, Arellano said, “This win means a lot to me because we lost the last tournament in the finals in overtime, so I really wanted to come back and pull it off this time. It’s the last tournament I’m playing here in the Florida season, and I hadn’t won a final yet this season, so it felt really good!”
Mint Eco Car Wash’s Tommy Huber congratulates Jason Wates following their first win of the 8-goal season at Port Mayaca Polo Club.
Finishing with six goals, Tommy Huber was named Most Valuable Player. “This win means a lot; Florida is very competitive. No matter what level the handicap is, winning anything is a great accomplishment. It takes a good, well-organized team to pull that off.”
Most Valuable Player Tommy Huber, presented by Port Mayaca Polo Club Manager Laura Linfoot Townsend.
In the defeat, Best Playing Pony was awarded to Mt. Brilliant’s 6-year-old V-Ocho Selección (Gete Galgo x Gete Ovación), who was played by Kyle Rosenstein in the first chukker and by Mike Azzaro in the fifth chukker. Having a high level of respect for Poplar Hill’s horses, Mint Eco Car Wash’s Huber finished by stating, “Their horses spoke for themselves, with Mike getting the Best Playing Pony, they were all extremely well mounted. That in itself was a challenge. They were a heck of a team!”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to V- Ocho Selección. Owned by Matt Brilliant, played by Kyle Rosenstein and Mike Azzaro. Pictured with Julian Diez.
*Harrison Azzaro and Lucas Arellano are Graduating Team USPA Members. 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 ©David Lominska.