Runners-up Sopris Mountain Ranch and champions Mountain Chevrolet.

Runners-up Sopris Mountain Ranch and champions Mountain Chevrolet.

By Sharon Robb

CARBONDALE, Colo., August 11, 2018---The Sopris Mountain Challenge Cup came down to an exciting penalty shootout Saturday at Sopris Mountain Ranch.

Mountain Chevrolet (Santos Bollini/Riley Ganzi, Aiden Meeker, Michael Payne, Lucas Lalor) defeated Sopris Mountain Ranch (Courtney Callahan, Caroline Lile, Santos Novillo Astrada, Nacho Novillo Astrada), 8-7.

In the second round of the penalty shootout, Georgetown-bound Riley Ganzi converted a 30-yard penalty to clinch the win. Ganzi finished with a team-high three goals and was named Most Valuable Player.

Payne had two goals and Bollini, Meeker and Lalor each had one goal for Mountain Chevrolet. Santos Novillo Astrada scored a game-high six goals for Sopris Mountain Ranch. Caroline Lile added one

The evenly-matched teams kept it close throughout the four-chukker game. The lead changed hands nine times before Ganzi scored the tying (6-6) goal with one minute left. Nacho Novillo Astrada missed a penalty conversion sending the game to a penalty shootout. The first round ended 7-7 with conversions from Payne and Santos Novillo Astrada. The second round was all Ganzi.

In the second half of the Sopris Saturday doubleheader, Polo School Purple defeated Polo School Blue, 7-3, in a two-chukker game featuring students from The Polo School. 

With proud parents Michael and Michelle Payne looking on, Stella Payne scored a game-high four goals and sister Samantha Payne added three goals for Polo School Purple. Gavin Meeker led Polo School Blue with two goals and Silvestre Novillo Astrada added one goal. 

On Sunday, La Karina (Brian Boyd, Marc Ganzi, Nic Roldan, Stewart Armstrong), last year's runner-up, will play Aspen Valley Polo Club (Melissa Ganzi, Eloy Vallinna, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, Juan Bollini) in the final of the Rocky Mountain Open at Aspen Valley Polo Club.

In last year's final, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Tony Calle, Juancito Bollini, Stewart Armstrong) won its third tournament of the 2017 summer season with a 12-9 victory over La Karina (Melissa Ganzi, Brian Boyd, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada).

The much-anticipated Sunday showdown is 1 p.m. MST following the Just For The Love Of It subsidiary game at 11 a.m. The day will feature the club's marquis event, the Chukkers, Champagne & Caviar fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation last year. Donations to the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation help support hospital operations and improvement projects. 

The Rocky Mountain Open, the seventh outdoor tournament and ninth overall of the summer polo season, is named after the major mountain range in western North America that stretches more than 3,000 miles from British Columbia south to the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The eastern edge of the Rockies rise dramatically in the Interior Plains of central North America including Colorado's highest peak Mount Elbert with the highest peak of 14,440 feet above sea level.

For the fifth consecutive Sunday doubleheader local firefighters and first responders will be honored during AVPC's "Polo Cares" initiative. Each Sunday through Labor Day Weekend, firefighters and their families will be acknowledged on AVPC's featured game day. The club has donation boxes for anyone wishing to contribute to local fire and rescue stations. AVPC is matching all funds collected 100 percent.

AVPC is showing its appreciation and support of the hundreds of brave men and women who have been battling the third largest fire in Colorado history for nearly three weeks.

Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments and on track to better that total this season.

So far this season, Piocho Ranch won the Independence Cup and Craig Sakin Memorial; Los Amigos Blue won the ChukkerTV Challenge; La Karina won the Basalt Handicap and Emma Challenge Cup; and Los Amigos Red won the High Alpine Cup.

With the breathtaking 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over four seasons.

This summer's 13-tournament schedule features ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments. It is the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.

This is also be the first season players will compete for the coveted Triple Crown of Polo. The three legs will be held at Denver Polo Club, Aspen Valley Polo Club and finish in Wellington this fall. Designed by Tiffany & Co., the Triple Crown of Polo is comprised of three separate trophies that fit perfectly together to create an entire polo scene that is breathtaking in sterling silver.

Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi founded the club in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo and The Polo School. In addition, the club offers practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments. An added feature for fans is the club's Jumbotron which made its debut this summer for the fans enjoyment.

"We want to make Aspen Valley Polo Club the place for this Valley," said co-owner Marc Ganzi, who grew up in Aspen. "The gates are open, the food is free, the drinks are free and your first polo lesson is free if you want to come take one and try the game. Our approach is come as you are. We prefer the flip flops over the high heels. We just want to get people to appreciate the horses and the Valley."

In the last four years, Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and hosting several charitable events at the club that have benefitted local charities.

The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and "have created a polo paradise" according to Piocho Ranch player-sponsor Tom Barrack. Players, sponsors, community leaders and fans share Barrack's sentiments.

Aspen, named after trees that quiver in the slightest breeze, offers hiking, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, golf, horseback riding, mountain climbing, great restaurants, shopping and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo.

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