We Are The Champions. Audi defended its title in grand style with Marc Ganzi (1), Carlitos Gracida (2), Nic Roldan (3) and Carlos Gracida (4). Photo by Scott Fisher
In front of a packed house, the defending champions relied on their experience and balanced attack to hand previously unbeaten ELG its first loss of the season-ending tournament with a 13-7 victory.
|Tournament runner-up ELG teammates Tommy Biddle (4), Kris Kampsen (3), Guille Aguero (2) and Avery Chapman (1). Photo by Scott Fisher|
For the second consecutive year, Audi swept both fall season 20-goal tournaments, winning both the USPA North American Cup and USPA National 20-Goal Tournament to keep its rich polo tradition alive.
Audi (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida) and ELG, (Avery Chapman, Guille Aguero, Kris Kampsen, Tommy Biddle) finished the tournament with identical 3-1 records.
"This win for sure is the sweeter," Ganzi said. "We wanted to win today and carry this forward.
"The level of polo has risen here. You had two 20-goal teams in this tournament and one of them didn't even make the Final Four and the other didn't make the final. You had an 18- and 19-goal team in the final which indicates the level has gotten much higher."
|Audi's Marc Ganzi (1) bumps ELG's Tommy Biddle (4) out of the play to get to the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"Every year this tournament is getting harder and harder," Roldan said. "Everyone is coming in with better and better horses. The fields are great, the time of year is amazing and the tournament is getting more prestigious, so it's extremely satisfying to win this year."
"This win was sweeter than last year because the teams are tougher and better organized," said Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, named Most Valuable Player at age 53.
|Audi's Carlos Gracida (4) showing his MVP form outracing defender Kris Kampsen of ELG. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"The older I get the more satisfying this is for me," Gracida said. "I am playing against younger players. I know that there is going to be a day that I will not be good enough to play at this level."
Gracida admitted he had his doubts about Audi continuing its tournament winning streak.
"Before the season I didn't think we were going to win again," Gracida said. "We were looking at the teams on paper and our team was the same but other teams were stronger."
|Most Valuable Player Carlos Gracida of Audi is all smiles with his arm full of awards. Photo by Scott Fisher|
|To the victors go the spoils in the form of the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament trophy. Photo by Scott Fisher|
The fast-paced game was physical from the opening chukker. Audi jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Roldan's 40-yard penalty shot, Gracida's pick-up goal off Roldan's missed attempt with 4:15 left and one goal by handicap. Aguero scored two goals to cut Audi's lead to one but it was the closest ELG (Equine Law Group) would get until the fourth chukker.
Audi got defensive in the second chukker shutting down ELG's long ball offense for a 7-2 lead with a tight-knit defense that was marking well and held ELG scoreless.
"We were so worried about the other team because they won so easily yesterday that we thought let's play defense because they are so good at attacking and they didn't expect that," Carlos Gracida said. "They expected us to be more of an attacking team and we were more a defending team.
"We were waiting for their mistakes and we were able to shut them down. They didn't get their long shots. We knew that Tommy has that long shot and Guille was running with the ball and we were able to be more patient and shut them down."
|Audi MVP Carlos Gracida (4) moves in to defend ELG's Kris Kampsen (3) in pursuit of the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
ELG found its defense and shut out Audi in the third chukker but could only manage to score one goal from Biddle and was trailing 7-3 at the half.
ELG tried to get untracked in the fourth chukker taking advantage of a penalty one and 60-yard penalty shot from Biddle to trail by only two (7-5) but it was the closest they would get for the rest of the game.
Audi's horse power in the fifth chukker and well-disciplined play overwhelmed ELG enabling Audi to pull away with a five-goal lead (11-6).
Audi never allowed ELG to regroup.
"We watched the first three games of this team and they pretty much chewed everyone up pretty easily," said Ganzi, who turned in one of his finest performances of the season. "Our plan was to isolate Tommy, to put him on an island. We basically cut their main artery, we cut off their quarterback, the guy who distributed the ball. Once they had no distribution, Guille and Kris had no where to run.
"We really tried to cut down mental errors which have always seemed to hurt us in games, so we had very few mental errors," Ganzi said. "I think we got very even contributions from all four players today. It was truly a team effort.
"Carlos Gracida led the team today," Ganzi said. "He is such a tactician. Two weeks of playing polo with him you learn more than you learn during an entire high goal season."
|ELG's Tommy Biddle (4) driving the ball downfield for his fourth goal of the game. Photo by Scott Fisher|
The game was physical. Biddle was hit in the back with a ball in the fourth chukker, Roldan was hit on the shoulder with a mallet in the fourth chukker and Aguero was hit in the leg with a ball late in the sixth chukker. All three escaped serious injury and continued to play.
Zulu, ridden by Aguero in the first and third chukkers, was named Best Playing Pony for the second time during the fall season. The seven-year-old Dark Bay mare is owned by Halo Polo.
Roldan led Audi scoring with five goals. Ganzi added three goals. Carlos Gracida and Carlitos Gracida each had two goals. One goal was picked up by handicap.
|Audi's Nic Roldan (3) and ELG's Tommy Biddle (4) in a horse race to the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
"I thought we played well, way better than we did the other day," Roldan said. "We just played solid and stuck to our gameplan. Carlos played amazing, Carlitos and Marc played great. We stayed patient and didn't do any stupid fouls.
"What makes this team special is the chemistry," Roldan said. "We have fun. We get hot on the field but we are having fun on the field at the same time. Carlos and I jell, Marc is always pushing and playing great up front and Carlitos is young and is always putting 120 percent in the game and that's what we need, fighters, guys that won't give up."
|Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) reaches behind ELG defender Avery Chapman's (1) horse to gain possession of the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Said Carlitos Gracida, "If we don't foul, we always win. You always have to keep playing no matter how far ahead you are. We just had to stay focused and keep playing, it didn't matter what the score was. I am just happy we won. For the first time I feel like I am part of a team and everyone is supporting me. We are all friends."
For Gracida Sr., the game was sentimental playing alongside his son, Carlitos. It was a family affair with Mariano grooming for his father and brother.
"This game was very special because last week I won with my son Mariano in the Mexico Polo Open that I have been playing for four years and now this week I won this with Carlitos," Gracida said. "He played very well. He is sharpening his game and his organization and it's paying off."
Biddle scored four goals for ELG including two on penalty shots. Aguero added two goals and one goal was scored on a Penalty 1.
ELG had qualified for three tournament finals and one consolation final this season and was looking for its first 20-goal title but fell short.
"They had a game plan to deal with us and obviously they executed it well," Chapman said. "Success is 9/10ths preparation. Our Plan B didn't work either.
"No one was panicked, this is a very resilient team," Chapman said. "Obviously, we are very happy to come to the finals at 3-0. For my first 20 goal I was impressed with the preparation of my teammates, the fields were great and the club did a great job of putting on a top-notch tournament in the fall. We are very happy to make it this far, no complaints. This was really a fun team."
Six teams started the two-week tournament play in two divisions. Audi, Casablanca and Palm Beach Equine were in the West bracket and KIG, ELG and Piaget were in the East bracket.
|Officials Horton Schwartz and Dale Schwetz receive awards from Grand Champions Polo Club for a job well-done during the 20-goal tournament. Photo by Scott Fisher|
Grand Champions honored officials Dale Schwetz and Horton Schwartz for their officiating during the fall season.
Fans, players and families were treated by Grand Champions to refreshments and asado sandwiches prepared by Cilantro's owner Herman Moreira.
|Fans working up an appetite watching Cilantro's Herman Moreira prepare asado sandwiches provided by Grand Champions. Photo by Scott Fisher|Retail manager Jennifer Guinan helps customers with their purchases in the Grand Champions Boutique. Photo by Scott Fisher
A packed house of polo fans enjoyed a perfect ending to an outstanding fall season at Grand Champions Polo Club. Photo by Scott Fisher