In an action-packed thriller, Flexjet defeated Audi, 12-9, Saturday to win the United States Arena Handicap at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
In the battle of the unbeatens, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, 1, Juan Bollini, 7, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 8) broke a 6-6 halftime tie on Astrada’s goal with 3:52 left in the third chukker and never trailed Audi (Marc Ganzi, 3, Nacho Novillo Astrada, 8, Stewart Armstrong, 4) after that.
Argentine seven-goaler Juan Bollini was named Most Valuable Player after dominating the game and scoring two 2-pointers. Bollini has been playing for 32 years since he moved to the United States in 1985.
“I still have it,” said Bollini, who wears a pink helmet as a cancer survivor. “I wanted to prove to myself I am still here. I gave it 110 percent.
“After what I went through last year to win any tournament means a lot but I never expected to be MVP. My family and Marc and Melissa Ganzi helped me to recover and gave me so much hope. I always knew I was going to come back. When you have goals in life you go for it. I am always looking for something bigger and better, that’s what keeps you alive.”
Alejandro Novillo Astrada, making his Aspen summer polo season debut, was named Tournament Most Valuable Pro Player. He finished with 19 goals in three games including three goals in the final.
Stewart Armstrong, a USPA member since 1973, was named Tournament Most Valuable Amateur Player. Armstrong’s horse, Bianca, a 7-year-old mare, was named Best Playing Pony.
Flexjet was the most dominant team in the six-team field scoring 43 goals in three games. The talented threesome defeated Sopris Mountain Ranch (Santos Bollini, 2, Pablo Spinacci, 6, Gabriel Gracida, 4), 14-8, in the quarterfinals and La Karina Green (Harrison Azzaro, 1, Lucas Lalor, 6, Ramiro Cordero, 5), 17-12, in the semifinals.
“It looks like we have been together for many, many years,” Bollini said. “Melissa knows how to play in the arena and was doing a hell of a job. I have been playing a long time and Alejandro is a nice player and knows polo. We had the chemistry.
“It is all about game strategy, step by step like chess,” Bollini said. “You have to study the other team and know the game.
“We had a tough game to win, no one gave us any free rides. I am very excited and proud of this organization and what Melissa and Marc are doing for polo.”
The game lived up to expectations from the opening chukker.
Audi, a 15-goal team, started off with a 1-0 lead based on handicap. After Alejandro Novillo Astrada evened the score at 1-1, Audi scored three unanswered goals before Melissa Ganzi scored her first goal of the game to cut Audi’s lead to two goals, 4-2, at the end of the chukker.
The teams exchanged leads twice. With Audi leading 4-3, Bollini hit a two-pointer to give Flexjet a 5-4 lead. Armstrong countered with another 2-pointer to give Audi back the lead, 6-5. In the final 30 seconds, Alejandro Novillo Astrada scored again to end 6-6 at halftime.
After each team missed two scoring opportunities, the momentum swayed in the third chukker after Melissa Ganzi stopped Marc Ganzi’s 2-point attempt.
Alejandro Novillo Astrada, set up by Bollini’s 25-yard penalty attempt into the corner and despite Armstrong’s smothering defense, scored at the 3:20 mark to give Flexjet a 7-6 lead.
A minute later, Melissa Ganzi converted a penalty-two for an 8-6 lead. Nacho Novillo Astrada stole the ball from his younger brother and connected with Armstrong who scored and cut the lead to 8-7 with 30 seconds left. A Flexjet penalty-one with five seconds left ended the third chukker with Flexjet leading 9-7.
The fourth chukker was all Flexjet, playing with the same poise, chemistry and confidence that got them into the final. After Marc Ganzi hit a nice back shot goal to cut the lead to one, Melissa Ganzi scored off a deflection and Bollini came up with a clutch 2-pointer for a 12-8 lead. Audi was awarded a penalty one in the last 50 seconds to cut the lead to 12-9. Bollini cleared out an Armstrong goal attempt as time ran out.
Flexjet converted 8-of-22 field shot conversions and Audi was 5-of-15. Audi converted both its penalty shots and Flexjet was 2-of-6. Audi led in fouls, 10-6. Both teams were even on throw-ins with five.
Bollini shared high-game scoring honors with Melissa Ganzi and Armstrong, each with four goals.
Melissa Ganzi, the only woman in the final, finished with 18 goals in three games.
Marc Ganzi added two goals and Nacho Novillo Astrada scored one for Audi.
It is the first time in several years that the tournament is being played as a stand-alone tournament and first time Aspen Valley Polo Club hosted the tournament.
Also for the first time, USPA Polo Network and Wellington-based ChukkerTV both simultaneously live streamed the three-day tournament.
The annual 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.
Aspen Valley Polo Club, the nation’s fastest growing USPA polo club, is enjoying its busiest summer polo season hosting 12 tournaments–eight grass and four arena.
The club has increased its membership and continues to grow and introduce polo throughout 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 including the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The club offers various weekly tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo, indoor and outdoor arena polo, charitable events and The Polo School. Practice sessions are also held for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.