By Alex Webbe
The 2016 Aspen Valley Polo Club season opened with a bang as three teams battled for the Independence Cup in the club’s arena.
Heavy overnight rains forced the change in venue with the tournament scheduled to take place on the club field, but the action was non-stop as Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi/Segundo Merlos, Carlitos Gracida and Sebastian Merlos) scored successive wins over La Karina (Brian Boyd, Marc Ganzi and Julio Novillo Astrada) and Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini and Lucas Lalor) to capture the trophy.
The round-robin format opened with a three chukker mini-match between Flexjet and La Karina with Carlitos Gracida doing the early damage with a goal on a penalty shot followed by an impressive 2-point shot from over half of the length of the arena for a 3-0 lead. Melissa Ganzi scored her first goal of the day to make it 4-0. Brian Boyd kept La Karina from getting shutout with a goal from the field but it was Flexjet with a comfortable 4-1 advantage.
La Karina and Flexjet traded goals in the second chukker. Goals from Boyd and Julio Novillo Astrada were countered by goals from Melissa Ganzi and Gracida. Flexjet maintained their three goal lead, 6-3.
Melissa Ganzi scored the first two goals of the third period as Flexjet stretched their lead out to five goals, 8-3, but La Karina rallied. Consecutive goals from Marc Ganzi, Boyd and Astrada brought them to within two goals of the lead, 8-6 when time ran out on them. The first win went to Flexjet, 8-6, who would sit down for the next three chukkers while La Karina met Casablanca.
Casablanca 7, La Karina 6
Marc Ganzi opened the scoring in the second mini-match of the day with a penalty conversion followed by a goal from Julio Novillo Astrada, 2-0. A pair of goals from Lucas Lalor and two penalty goals had Casablanca taking the lead at the end of the chukker, 4-2.
Astrada added two more goals to the La Karina total in second period play while the defense limited Casablanca to a single goal from Lalor. After two chukkers Casablanca continued to lead, 5-4.
Brian Boyd tied the game at 5-5 with the opening goal of the third and final chukker, but Casablanca fired back. Two goals (one on a penalty conversion) from Juancito Bollini put Casablanca on top, 7-5, with time running out. Marc Ganzi scored his second goal of the match to bring La Karina to within a goal of the lead but that was where it ended. Casablanca scored the 7-6 win and would face Flexjet in the final three chukkers for the cup.
For the final three chukkers of the round-robin, Segundo Merlos would be replacing Melissa Ganzi and joining his father and Carlitos Gracida in the arena.
Flexjet 6, Casablanca 4
A rested Flexjet team went right to work with goals from Sebastian Merlos and Carlitos Gracida giving them a 2-1 edge after the first chukker. Casablanca was limited to a single goal from Lucas Lalor.
Flexjet broke the game open in the second period with Sebastian Merlos scoring a goal and his son, Segundo Merlos, adding two more. Flexjet also received a goal on a Penalty 1 as they charged out to a 6-2 lead. One again it was Lalor with the lone Casablanca goal.
Flexjet played defense for much of the balance of the game and Casablanca struggled to build up any sort of offensive rhythm. Grant Ganzi scored the only goal in the chukker as Flexjet took the game and the Independence Cup on the strength of their 6-4 win.
Carlitos Gracida scored five goals and earned MVP honors for his efforts. Halo Polo’s Jasper, a 4-year-old Dun gelding (by Open Quarto out of Dior) was named Best Playing Pony. Jasper was played by Sebastian Merlos in his arena polo debut.
Action continues at the Aspen Valley Polo Club with the ChukkerTV Challenge, July 6-10. Teams and schedules to be announced.