WELLINGTON, FL-Grand Champions Polo Club's girls team qualified for the Feb. 14-16 USPA Girls Southeastern Interscholastic Regional at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville, Va. On a sun-drenched Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club Arena, the talented team of Mia Astrada, Riley Ganzi and Chase Schwartz was impressive in the Girls Southeast Interscholastic Preliminary II tournament qualifier. Grand Champions won 12-4 over The Polo School team of Jacqui Casey, Alyssa Tranchilla and Rachel Kelly in the championship final.
Astrada and Schwartz each scored five goals and were named to the All-Star team along with Casey and Kelly. Hope Arellano of Palm Beach Polo earned the Sportsmanship Award. Casey's gelding Darren was named Best Playing Pony. Grand Champions "B" string was selected as the best playing string of ponies.
The future of women's polo is in good hands based on the caliber of play during the two-day tournament. John Gobin coached Grand Champions and Charles Muldoon coached The Polo School. The girls also got some great advice between chukkers from their fathers including polo players Miguel Novillo Astrada, Joey Casey, Marc Ganzi, Julio Arellano and Horton Schwartz. The chemistry among the Grand Champions players was evident.
"It was great playing on the team, everybody was playing great together," said Schwartz, 17, who will make her debut in the southeastern regional tournament. "We're starting to work really well as a team now, it's really exciting."
Trailing 4-3 late in the second chukker, Grand Champions turned it on with goals from Schwartz and Ganzi to regain the lead (5-4) and penalty shot by Schwartz to lead 6-4 at the half. Grand Champions pulled away and never relinquished the lead while shutting out The Polo School in the second half.
"We started getting really aggressive, we just said we couldn't lose this and started picking up the pace," Schwartz said. "We had a lot of great coaching at halftime from my dad about mentality."
Gobin encouraged his players while pacing along the boards throughout the four-chukker final. "I didn't expect our team to be as strong as this" Gobin said. "I think we played really well the last two chukkers where we came together. I don't think we played that well in the first half. We got lucky with a penalty-one call and we just didn't look back.
"They really wanted to win," said Gobin, who worked with the team for two weeks before the tournament. "It's nice to see them going to Charlottesville. The quality of all the teams has improved a lot. We need to get more arena polo in South Florida. The Ganzis are pushing it forward with all the polo and it's only going to benefit all of us."
Riley Ganzi competed in her third consecutive southeastern regional. "It feels amazing to win, we worked really hard for this," Ganzi said. "We put in a lot of team work. I have a lot of trust and faith in my teammates so I thought we would do pretty well.
The other team was tough competition. "I am very excited, I love girls polo especially I/I, it's my favorite," Ganzi said.
Even though she is the youngest member of the team, Astrada has played in three preliminary southeastern tournaments and practices arena polo when her family comes to Wellington for the winter season. "I am very happy to win, we are going to travel," Astrada said. "We are the youngest ones in this tournament, we didn't know how we would do but we wanted to win."
Women's and girls' polo is the fastest growing sector in polo today. Collegiate programs are growing and the Women's Championship Tournament events are now held throughout the world including Dubai. Grand Champions will host the WCT championship women's and junior tournaments April 8-12.
"I was really proud of all the girls and certainly my daughter," Grand Champions Polo Club owner and Flight Options player Melissa Ganzi said. "I've seen the girls make a lot of progress and that's really nice. "It's a great team sport and some of these girls will have an opportunity to play in college and be recruited by different coaches and teams."
It was the first time the prestigious tournament was hosted by a South Florida polo club.
"This is the future of polo," said Ganzi, host of the tournament.
"It's great to start with the kids. For the last two years our kids had to travel to Virginia to do this. Florida is one of the strongest regions. This is the home of winter polo. We have the best polo in the world in America but Florida is really lagging behind in the interscholastic and intercollegiate divisions so it was important to us to have it here."
Grand Champions sponsored all three teams. The club provided the arena venue and all the horses except for three. If Grand Champions wins in Virginia, the team will advance to the March 6-9 National Interscholastic Championship at the University of Connecticut. This weekend Grand Champions will host four boys teams (Grand Champions, The Polo School, Palm Beach Polo and Port Mayaca) in the Southeastern Open Interscholastic Preliminary II Tournament at Polo West. The opening game is Friday at 6:30 p.m. and final is Saturday at 11 a.m.
For the schedule, game recaps, news, features and photos of Grand Champions Polo Club-related events, go to www.grandchampionspoloclub.org.