HAMILTON, Mass., September 6, 2016---Wellington, a hotbed for youth polo players, continued its’ domination of the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship Sunday at Myopia Polo Club.
The Zone 3 Florida circuit captured the Cecil Smith Cup on the historic Gibney Field for the third time in four years since the inception of the tournament in 2013.
Brothers Justin and Benji Daniels, Nico Escobar and Matias Gonzalez led Zone 3 to a 7-5.5 victory over Zone 1 (Jake Klentner, Ronnie Puente, Conrad Kissling, Sloan Stefanakis). Escobar, Gonzalez and Justin Daniels each had two goals. Benji Daniels added one.
“It was an awesome great feeling to win,” Justin Daniels said. “We jumped off our horses and started dancing in the tent shouting ‘campeon, campeon’ like Cambiaso did at the Argentine Open. We’re all friends. We grew up together and wanted to win together.”
In the consolation game, Zone 4 (JP Vasquez, Barrett Coke, Tommy Huber, George Hempt) defeated Zone 2 (Jack McLean, Carlos Font, Andrew Beck, Harry Caldwell), 8-3.5.
Escobar, son of polo great Luis Escobar, and King’s Academy student, was named the Matthew Coan Most Valuable Player.
“Nico played really well, he deserved it,” Daniels said. “His penalty shooting was impressive. We all played well together as a team but Nico played really smart, good plays.”
Cohen, a former NYTS All-Star, had his cut life short at age 15 from complications with his lifelong battle with diabetes.
Cohen competed in several NYTS qualifiers and was named to the 2014 All-Star team. He participated in several tournaments at Grand Champions Polo Club and played with and against Escobar, Gonzalez and Daniels brothers.
Escobar also received Best Playing Pony honors for his second chukker mare Coki.
“I am so proud of this team,” said Florida Circuit Governor Melissa Ganzi, owner of Grand Champions Polo Club. “They represented our zone so well.
“I have known them all since they were babies and watched them grow up in polo. They are just one example of kids we have given opportunities to in polo. Our Florida circuit is very strong.”
Ganzi, secretary-treasurer of the Polo Training Foundation, is one of the biggest supporters of youth players and youth polo tournaments. She was given much credit for the team’s success by players and parents.
“We all grew up playing together and against each other at those tournaments,” said Justin Daniels, 18, a senior at St. Andrew’s School. “It’s always been fun to play and then watch the pros play.”
Grand Champions Polo Club, which features a strong grass roots program for youth players, has hosted several youth polo tournaments and clinics attracting most of the area’s players. Grand Champions and its sister club Aspen Valley Polo Club have hosted NYTS qualifiers since the first national outdoor tournament for youth players was established in 2013.
Daniels, a two-time national champion and three-time national qualifier, is the son of Bob Daniels, another avid player and youth polo supporter, who died earlier this year.
“There was always some tournament to play at Grand Champions whether it was youth or adult polo,” Justin Daniels said. “It’s how we got better and developed our passion. I always loved playing with my dad.”
Florida’s domination in the four-year-old tournament illustrates the strength of the Polo Training Foundation’s leadership in developing juniors with tournaments and clinics held at Grand Champions, Santa Clara, Valiente, Everglades and International Polo Clubs, all in Wellington.
“Wellington is the only place in the world you can play polo all the time,” Daniels said. “It’s the polo capital. We can watch the world’s top high goal players and then go play.”
Jack McLean of Zone 2, a frequent competitor in Wellington, was voted the NYTS Sportsmanship Award.
Zone 3, coached by Tom Goodspeed, advanced into the championship final with a thrilling 8-6 victory over defending champion Zone 4, coached by Team USPA member Nick Snow.
In the final chukker, Benji Daniels’ horse slipped. Daniels escaped injury and was subbed for by Lucas Escobar, Nico’s younger brother. Nico Escobar had four goals including three on penalty shots. Gonzalez and Benji Daniels each had two.
“We figured they would be the toughest team since they were defending champion,” Daniels said. “They were really strong. It was such a good win.”
The NYTS is a series of youth tournaments around the country where top representatives from each of the nation’s four zones compete in national final.
Sixteen of the nation’s most promising players under 19 are showcased during the two-day tournament. The 2016 series attracted 96 teams and 384 players in 33 qualifiers across the U.S. A pool of 156 All-Stars were chosen for the players pool eligible for selection.
The zone breakdowns are: Zone 1 (Pacific Coast, Pacific Northwest, Southwestern, Border, Hawaiian, and Rocky Mountain); Zone 2 (Southeastern, Central, Midstates, Great Plains); Zone 3 (Florida); and Zone 4 (Eastern and Northeastern).
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: 13444 Southfields Road, on the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington, 33414.
2016 FALL SCHEDULE: Sept. 27-Oct. 2, Tackeria Invitational; Oct. 4-9, US Trust Cup; Oct. 11-16, USPA Fall Classic; Oct. 11-29, USPA North American Cup;Oct. 18-23, USPA Eastern Challenge; Oct. 25-30, Pedro Morrison Memorial; Nov. 1-6, USPA Fall Plates;Nov. 8-13, Polo Gear Challenge; Nov. 12-20, USPA National 20-Goal; Nov. 26, Carlos Gracida Memorial Legends of Polo and International Cup.
INFORMATION: For spectators, there are great field side views for tournament action and also the Grand Champions Polo Club Boutique. The club is home base for pro teams Audi and Flexjet. Everyone is welcome to watch every level of polo in a relaxed atmosphere that includes a complimentary Argentine asado by Cilantro’s during the featured games of the winter, spring and fall tournament seasons and other special events. Admission is free except for some special events.