Spotlight on Youth at Blanco Texas Cup

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Justin Daniels. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
Justin Daniels. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

Wellington. FL - January 20, 2015 - International Polo Club Palm Beach shined the spotlight on up-and-coming youth players as they competed for the Blanco Texas Cup. The four teams in the tournament included Grand Champions, GJ Racing, World Polo News/Escue and Casablanca. In the end, Grand Champions came out on top in the tournament, defeating GJ Racing 2-1. Jack McLean was named Most Valuable Player and Best Playing Pony went to Matias Gonzalez's "Pampa."
Game 1: Grand Champions Beats Casablanca 3-2
Grand Champions            Casablanca
Guille Maia   A                       Lauren Biddle   A.5            
Justin Daniels   A.5               Alex Job   S
Grant Ganzi   1                      Victorino Ruiz   NR
Juancito Bollini   2                  Keegan Walsh   2

Grand Champions played Casablanca in the first two chukkers. Toro Ruiz came out swinging the moment the clock started running. He sped ahead, engaging Grant Ganzi in a rideoff and showing excellent control of the ball as he worked it down the sideboards. The number two players, Lauren Biddle for Casablanca and Justin Daniels for Grand Champions, had a lightning-fast rideoff of their own. The only goal in the chukker came from Ruiz on a penalty conversion in the last 30 seconds of play, giving Casablanca an early one-point lead.

Ruiz - definitely a force on the field - scored again in the second chukker, this time from the field. In another play, Ruiz and Juancito Bollini battled it out, charging along the sideboards, but neither was able to score. On a penalty shot, Ganzi made a smooth swing with excellent placement, knocking the ball in to tie the game at 1-all.

Daniels showed some slick control in a string of plays. He took a nice inside shot but was ridden wide by Keegan Walsh. Undaunted, Daniels battled his way back, reached out to snag the ball and scored. With a 2-2 tie at the end of the second chukker, it went to a shootout, won by Grand Champions.

Manuel Villamil. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
Manuel Villamil. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

Game 2: GJ Racing Beats World Polo News/ Escue 3-2
GJ Racing                          World Polo News/Escue
Liam Lott   A.5                     Derek Berg   A.5  
Jack McLean  B.5                 Wesley Bryan   1.5
Matias Gonzalez   2             Jose Merielles Jr.   0
Manuel Villamil    NR             Aayan Quraeshi   A

The second game went off to a running start with Wesley Bryan breaking downfield before Manuel Villamil took control to pass the ball to Matias Gonzalez. Villamil then made a near side back shot that was picked up by Jack McLean before a penalty was called. The penalty five was started from the point of the infraction and was picked up by Ayaan Quraeshi.

Gonzalez moved in on the play and turned the ball north, working it to midfield and passing to Liam Lott. Lott hit to McLean who drove it in to put one on the board for GJ Racing. Derek Berg took charge from the bowl-in, only to lose the ball to Gonzalez. Gonzalez passed to Villamil, who continued the drive before passing back to Gonzalez. A penalty was called, and Gonzalez converted for a 2-1 lead for GJ Racing at the end of the first chukker.

The second chukker continued to highlight the team play of GJ Racing. Gonzalez took off from the throw-in and passed to McLean, who sent the ball down field to Villamil. Villamil took the ball to the goal line, but the shot was wide and out. Following the knock-in, Bryan drove the ball to midfield under heavy pressure by Gonzalez. The ball was picked up by Quraeshi before Villamil again took ball to the goal line, only to have the shot go wide. After some play back and forth, Bryan took a lofted shot towards the GJ Racing goal line while being defended by McLean. A penalty was called and World Polo News/Escue took possession of the ball at midfield. After a drive and some heavy traffic by the goal line, Jose Merielles Jr. scored, making it 2-1. McLean responded by scoring on a breakaway to put one up on the board for GJ Racing. In the play following the bowl-in, a penalty was called in favor of World Polo News/ Escue and Bryan converted for a goal. The chukker ended 3-2 in favor of GJ Racing, who advanced to the final round.

Toro Ruiz. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
Toro Ruiz. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

Consolation Final: World Polo News/Escue Takes Casablanca 5-3
World Polo News/Escue             Casablanca
Derek Berg                                      Lauren Biddle            
Wesley Bryan                                  Alex Job
Jose Merielles Jr.                             Victorino Ruiz
Aayan Quraeshi                              Keegan Walsh

In the Consolation Final, World Polo News/Escue played Casablanca. Berg picked up the ball at the start of the game and worked through heavy traffic to score for World Polo News/Escue. Ruiz made a conversion goal, tying the game at 1-all. He followed that up with another goal, this one from the field. He pulled out ahead, barreled right down the middle of the field and took a straight shot on goal, breaking the tie and bringing his team to a 2-1 lead at the end of the first chukker.

Bryan tied it back up in the second chukker, and then Ruiz made his fifth goal of the day. Merielles picked up the ball, worked it toward the backline and handed it off to Berg, who scored, tying the game at 3-3. Berg soon made it a repeat with a beautiful saving neckshot, bringing World Polo News/Escue in a one-point lead. With a minute-and-a-half to go, Bryan scored again, ending the game 5-3 for World Polo News/Escue.

Matias Gonzalez and Guille Maia. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
Matias Gonzalez and Guille Maia. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

Final: Grand Champions Defeats GJ Racing 2-1
GJ Racing                          Grand Champions
Liam Lott                              Guille Maia
Jack McLean                        Justin Daniels
Matias Gonzalez                  Grant Ganzi
Manuel Villamil                     Juancito Bollini

The final game of the tournament was a heated battle between Grand Champions and GJ Racing. The pace quickly picked up with a cross field drive by Villamil before Bollini picked up on the play. One of the referees took a minor spill, and after a short pause, the game continued. Bollini took a lofted shot to Ganzi, who continued the drive before Villamil rode him off the line. After more play along the side boards, Bollini hit a back shot while under pressure from Gonzalez. A penalty was called and play continued from the point of infraction. Gonzalez passed to Villamil before Bollini turned the ball. In an incredible display of teamwork, Gonzalez took the ball down field and passed to Villamil. Villamil took the ball to McLean, who drove it in until Lott took it and scored. Daniels took the ball in and passed it to Bollini, who took control of the play until Villamil turned the ball under pressure. Gonzalez picked up the ball and made a neck shot to McLean. A backshot by Ganzi interrupted the drive. Daniels picked up the play and drove a pass to Bollini. After a whistle, Bollini hit a back shot. Another whistle sounded and then play resumed. Bollini hit Lott with a pass, which Lott took in for the goal, but the shot went wide. After another goal attempt by Villamil, the chukker ended 1-0.

Grand Champions and GJ Racing. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
Grand Champions and GJ Racing. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

The final chukker began with Bollini in charge of the ball. Villamil picked up the ball and a whistle was blown. After play resumed, Bollini hit a back shot under pressure from Villamil to Daniels. Daniels tapped the ball forward and passed to Bollini, who was heavily guarded by Gonzalez and Villamil. A penalty was called in favor of Grand Champions. Ganzi converted to tie the score 1-1. From the throw-in, Bollini charged down field where Guillerhme Maia made a goal attempt but was hooked on the play. Daniels attempted to salvage the play but was backed out by Lott. Daniels then drove in a goal to make the score 2-1 in favor of Grand Champions. The knock-in was fielded by Daniels, who briefly lost the ball to Villamil before Ganzi picked it back up. Bollini attempted another goal but the shot was wide and out. After a drive from Lott hopped the side boards, McLean made the final goal attempt for GJ Racing but the shot was wide. Grand Champions won the game with a score of 2-1.

For the players of Grand Champions, the emphasis was on fun today.

"It was a lot of fun," said Bollini. "I haven't played (a tournament) like this in a long time. Playing a four-man team is different from playing the other tournaments. Plus I got to play with all my friends."

"Pampa" for Matias Gonzalez was Best Playing Pony. Photo: Alex Pacheco.
"Pampa" for Matias Gonzalez was Best Playing Pony. Photo: Alex Pacheco.

Ganzi said the game was tough. "We had good opponents who fought us a lot, to the end," he said. "Both our games were close. The first one was a shootout, and the second was (decided) only by one point, so it could have been a shootout if a goal had gone in there at the end. It was very nerve-wracking."

Overall, he said, "I thought the team did really well and stayed poised after sitting down for four chukkers. I was a little worried about sitting down for such a long time, but then we came back and played really well."

Jack McLean, who plays for GJ Racing and was named MVP of the tournament, credited his team and horses for his level of play. "The guys were hitting me with good passes, and I got to score some good goals. I had great horses from Omar Sosa," he said.

Matias Gonzalez, whose horse "Pampa" won Best Playing Pony, has had a longstanding relationship with the gelding, who was bred in Argentina. "My father [bred him]," he said. "When I was about eight years old, we went to play in a kids' tournament like this, and I played him and liked him, so I bought him."