By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., August 9, 2018---Defending champion Flexjet made it two in a row Thursday in the United States Arena Handicap Polo Championship at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
On a perfect day for polo, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8, Juan Bollini, 6) rallied in the second half to defeat The Polo School (Aiden Meeker, A, Carlitos Gracida, 5, Nic Roldan, 8), 14-10, in front of a good crowd and worldwide USPA Polo Network audience.
Fourteen-year-old Aiden Meeker of Fort Worth, Tex., playing well above his "A" handicap in his arena championship debut, was named Most Valuable Player. Meeker, a freshman at Culver Academy, scored two goals in the semifinals and one in the final while defending some of the sport's top players including Argentine brothers Alejandro and Nacho Novillo Astrada.
"It was really fun to play with new players," said Meeker, who has been playing polo for two years. "Normally, I play with people I'm used to that aren't rated as high.
"I didn't expect to be MVP," Meeker said. "It was fun to get on the horses and play. I like playing polo. It's a whole new experience going full-speed, down the field and hitting a ball and trying to make a really nice shot. I got to meet a bunch of people who were super nice."
In an action-packed final, Novillo Astrada scored a game-high eight goals and finished with 19 in two games. Bollini added four goals and finished with nine goals. For The Polo School, Roldan led with six goals and finished with 11 goals in two games and Gracida added a two-pointer and finished with five.
For the second year in a row, Flexjet was the most dominant team in the four-team field scoring 32 goals in two games. Last year Flexjet scored 43 goals in three games.
Flexjet converted 11-of-18 shots from the field while The Polo School was 8-of-17. Flexjet dominated the throw-ins, 10-2. The Polo School led in fouls, 7-2. Flexjet made 3-of-7 penalty conversions and The Polo School was 0-for-2.
The one-day tournament, played in 72-degree weather and under clear skies, lived up to expectations. In the final, The Polo School led 3-2 at the half behind Roldan's two goals and one by Meeker. Astrada Novillo took charge in the second half enabling Flexjet to outscore The Polo School, 6-3 in the third chukker and 11-4 for the second half.
Earlier in the day in the semifinal round, Flexjet broke open a close game in the fourth and final chukker to defeat Mountain Chevrolet (Michael Payne, 2, Lucas Lalor, 6, Kris Kampsen, 9), 18-13, to advance into the championship final. Flexjet outscored Mountain Chevrolet, 6-3, in the final chukker.
Kampsen, the top-ranked arena player at nine goals, scored all 13 of his team goals. Novillo Astrada led Flexjet with nine goals. Bollini had four goals and Ganzi added three goals.
Flexjet was hot from the field, hitting 14-of-19 shots and was 1-of-2 in penalty conversions. Mountain Chevrolet was 8-of-22 and 3-for-3 in penalty shots. The teams were even on throw-ins, 4-4, but Mountain Chevrolet led in fouls, 10-7.
In the other semifinal game, The Polo School edged Casablanca (Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8, Grant Ganzi, 2, Juancito Bollini, 4), 12-11, on Roldan's 15-yard penalty conversion in the final 25 seconds.
Roldan led The Polo School with a game-high eight goals and Meeker added two. Bollini led Casablanca with six goals, Novillo Astrada had four and Ganzi added one.
The Polo School was 7-of-14 in field shot conversions and Casablanca was 8-of-15. The Polo School was 3-of-3 in penalty shots and Casablanca was 2-of-3. The Polo School led in fouls, 6-4, and dominated the throw-ins, 7-3.
The annual arena event dates back to 1980 and is a national USPA tournament played at medium goal level. In the past, the tournament has been played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship at Country Farms Polo Club in Medford, N.Y.
With the majestic 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.
The 2018 summer season features 13-tournaments including ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments.
Six grass tournaments have been held so far. 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 and Los Amigos Red won the High Alpine Cup.
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.
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 including last season's Champagne, Caviar & Chukkers fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and "have created a polo paradise" according to 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, great restaurants and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo.