Kaia Polo, Alegria, Audi Advance Into WPL All-Star Challenge Semifinals

The highly-anticipated sixth season opener of the World Polo League lived up to expectations Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club

By Sharon Robb

Photos by Candace Ferreira

Kaia Polo, Alegria and Audi all advanced into the semifinals of the eight-team, single-elimination tournament with impressive victories.

Alegria will face Audi and Kaia Polo will play the winner of La Irenita-Senvest at a time and date to be determined because of Sunday’s rain cancellation of the final semifinal.

Kaia Polo 17, Travieso 11

Kaia Polo (Larry Austin, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Mariano Aguerre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8), a 22-goal rated team, started off with a 3-0 handicap advantage against Travieso ( Tincho Merlos, 7, Teo Calle, 1, Juan Martin Zubia, 9, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8) and never looked back.

Behind Toccalino’s five goals, including four penalty conversions in the first two chukkers, Kaia Polo played well on both ends of the field. With great passing, anticipation and defense, Kaia Polo led 11-3 going into the third chukker. Travieso tried to claw its way back, outscoring Kaia Polo, 4-2, in the fifth chukker to close the gap, 13-9, but fell short.

“It never felt like we really dominated,” Austin said. “It felt like any moment they could come back. I was really happy with our result. It was chemistry and perseverance. First games are always challenging, you never know how it’s going to go.”

The talented team, with only two practice sessions under its belt, was put together by Austin’s manager Nick Manifold. “He’s a polo genious,” Austin said. “It’s really exciting to have so many guys playing in this league. It just keeps getting better.

“Everyone talks about chemistry,” Austin said. “The only thing I can liken this to is growing up playing basketball there were these players Steve Nash and John Stockton, who were amazing and always at the right place on the court at the right time, distributing the ball and doing everything. That’s Mariano with flawless execution and just amazing chemistry with Santi. Having Santi with us, he was so strong and powerful. And Lerin is the workhorse. He does all the stuff no one sees.”

Toccalino scored a game-high nine goals. Aguerre added four goals. Merlos had six goals and Zubia added four for Travieso. Kaia Polo outshot Travieso, 14-7, in the first half and 25-16 for the game. Kaia Polo led in throw-ins 15-11. Travieso led knock-ins, 9-5.

Alegria 10, Maltese Falcons 7

Alegria (Sugar Erskine, 6, Jason Crowder, 5, Pipe Vercellino, 7, Freddie Mannix, 7) broke open a close game in the second half to top Maltese Falcons (Melissa Ganzi, 0, Martin Jauregui, 6, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7, Juan Martin Nero, 10).

After playing to a 6-6 first half, Alegria shut out Maltese Falcons in the fourth and fifth chukkers while outscoring them 4-1 in the second half. Despite some nice plays, Maltese Falcons could never find their rhythm on offense.

Erskine scored a game-high five goals including three in the opening chukker. Crowder and Mannix each had two. Nero was held to two goals. Maltese Falcons picked up two goals on handicap. Alegria outshot Maltese Falcons, 16-12. Knock-ins were even at 5 and Maltese Falcons led in throw-ins, 7-5.

Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Nic Roldan, 8, Jeta Castagnola, 10, Pancho Bensadon, 7) led from start to finish utilizing all four of its players to knock off defending champion Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Rufino Bensadon, 8, Sapo Caset, 9, Hilario Figueras, 6).

Audi jumped out to a 3-1 start and never relinquished the lead. Audi led 6-5 at the half and after a scoreless fouth chukker by both teams, Audi shut out Casablanca, 3-0, in the fifth chukker to take a 9-5 lead. Audi scored four goals off four broken plays.

Audi had problems at the penalty line, missing six, but got the job done on the field behind Castagnola’s five goals. Ganzi added two goals. Caset had five goals for Casablanca. Audi outshot Casablanca, 21-13. Casablanca led in knock-ins, 11-6, and throw-ins 11-5.

Figueras earned the Ironman Award of the day playing in back-to-back games with no break. He finished runner-up for Quite on Z in the Limited Edition 12-Goal Series final before playing the 26-goal game.

The WPL, the winter season’s biggest highlight, continues to make history as the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina.

Last year Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Barto Castagnola, 10, Jesse Bray, 7) started off as underdogs and finished as champions. Casablanca posted an impressive 14-9 victory over 2021 champion and tournament favorite Richard Mille (Gilberto Sayao, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7). Argentine 10-goaler Barto Castagnola was named Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high 11 goals.

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