By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., February 18, 2018---With less than two minutes left, Argentina rallied from a two-goal deficit for a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over PTF USA Saturday to capture the Polo Training Foundation (PTF) International Cup.
Argentina (Francisco Spinacci, Miguel Novillo Astrada Jr., Poroto Cambiaso, Santos Bollini) was trailing PTF USA (Juanse Olivera, Kristos Magrini, Clark Mayer, Will Jacobs), 3-1, when Cambiaso got the hot mallet and scored back-to-back goals to send the game into overtime.
After a two-minute overtime period, the game went down to six rounds of shootout penalty shots between Cambiaso and Magrini with Cambiaso converting the game-winner in front of a good local crowd and worldwide ChukkerTV audience.
For the second year in a row, Poroto Cambiaso, the son of 10-goaler Adolfo Cambiaso, was named Most Valuable Player. The Sporstmanship Award honor went to Will Jacobs.
Last year, Argentina defeated PTF USA, 6-2, in the final. In Saturday's final, Magrini scored two goals and Olivera scored one for a 3-1 lead with 1:53 left in the game.
"That second game we started off really well," Juanse Olivera said. "We had a good first chukker and good second chukker, too. At the end we just lost focus. I made a dumb foul and we got unlucky. And the penalty shootout, that's for anyone. That could have gone either way. We have a good team. It was fun to play with them. It was a new experience."
In the consolation final, Girls International (Mia Novillo Astrada, Riley Ganzi, Hope Arellano, Mia Cambiaso), after losing 3-2 in overtime to PTF USA in the semifinal, bounced back with an impressive 3-0 win over Flannels English Colts (Beanie Bradley, George Deverall, Harry Fuller, George Hobbs).
"This is so much fun especially since I have been playing with these girls my whole life," Ganzi said. "To see each other improve and play so well together is so nice.
"We were joking about how we always make it so close and never win this," Ganzi said. "Next year we have to make a comeback."
Ganzi, a third generation polo player, is among a talented group of players who have come up through the PTF.
"There is such amazing talent at such a young age right now that I have no doubt they will be doing amazing things in their adult life in polo," Ganzi said.
The Girls International team was the original girls team that went into double overtime against Team USA the first year of the tournament in 2015.
"It's been a lot of fun playing with them, they are a great team to play with," said Arellano whose father Julio, with a bright pink cast on his broken hand, came out to cheer her on. "It's so much fun to play against everybody. All these kids are playing amazing."
For the third year in a row, Mia Novillo Astrada was selected Most Valuable Player. Beanie Bradley earned Sportsmanship honors.
The MVP honor for Cambiaso and Astrada is the Peter Perkins Best Young Player Award. Perkins was a war veteran and polo champion. The former 9-goaler was a two-time U.S. Open champion. He died at age 78 in Delray Beach, Fla.
The Flannels English Colts lost to Argentina in the opening semifinal, 2-1, in a shootout. The British team's participation is part of the PTF-HPA's annual exchange program. All four, making their U.S. debut, relished the invaluable experience playing on top-caliber horses and well-manicured fields against some of the best youth players in the world.
"This was a big experience for us," 16-year-old George Hobbs said. "We played them in England but it is different here with the pitch and the horses."
Added 14-year-old teammate Harry Fuller, "This has been such an experience. I've never played in Florida before and the weather is so nice. This is a dream come true for us. The level of play here is quite intense."
The team is scheduled to return to England on Monday after competing in the Avendano Memorial Tournament.
One of the most-anticipated youth events of the winter polo season lived up to expectations with four of the most competitive two-chukker games in the Cup's history. Three of the games went down to shootouts.
Regalito, a grey gelding ridden by Ganzi and owned by Santa Rita Polo Farm, was named American Polo Horse Association Best registered horse for the game. His groom was awarded $250 by American Polo Horse Association executive director Tiana Smicklas.
The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms. Hale was recently inducted posthumously into the Polo Hall of Fame. Petacka, ridden by Spinacci, was selected Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony.
Argentina (Francisco Spinacci, Miguel Novillo Astrada, Jr., Poroto Cambiaso, Santos Bollini) now joins past PTF International Cup winners were: 2015, Team USA (Landen Daniels, Kristos Magrini, Mackie Weisz, Benji Daniels); 2016, Boys International Team (Santos Bollini, Juanse Olivera, Harrison Azzaro, Poroto Cambiaso); and 2017, Argentina (Santos Merlos, Poroto Cambiaso, Lucas Criado, Juanse Olivera).
The Polo Training Foundation, now 51 years old, has been instrumental in the growth of junior and youth polo players by encouraging the sport's development with training programs, lessons and tournaments for boys and girls. The international exchange programs have been among the most popular.
"We are accomplishing what we set out to do with this event," said PTF Executive Director Danny Scheraga. "It's looked forward to with excitement and it's great we get the British team here this time every year.
"Look how close the games were today, it was wonderful polo," Scheraga said. "These are the future players. We are getting the young players coming in and hopefully all over the country we are striving to get outside kids that are not from polo families to really grow the sport."
The PTF was created in 1967 to teach the game of polo to youth by promoting youth clinics, interscholastic and intercollegiate competition, good sportsmanship and good will through friendly competition.
USPA Florida Circuit Governor and Grand Champions Polo Club President Melissa Ganzi is a longtime supporter of grass roots polo and Polo Training Foundation. She has played a key role in developing young players with the The Polo School, a stand-alone USPA sanctioned club, at Grand Champions. Ganzi also serves as secretary for the PTF.
Most of the horses in the tournament were provided by Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique 100-acre polo facility in Wellington with 120 stalls in five self-contained barns, exercise track, five climate-controlled tack rooms, vet room, staff quarters, guest house and polo fields with state-of-the-art underground irrigation and stick-and-ball fields.
During fall, winter and spring seasons, Grand Champions Polo Club, the nation's largest club with 11 well-manicured fields, hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 26-goal in addition to special events.
The club features monthly 6, 8 and 12-goal tournaments and women's weekly league play during the winter season in addition to two 16-20 tournaments, $50,000 National 12 Goal, $100,000 World Cup winner-take-all 0-40-goal tournament, WCT Tournament and USPA National President's Cup.
During the 2017 winter season Grand Champions attracted a record 72 teams and another 18 teams during the spring season.
Grand Champions caters to men, women and youth polo players at all levels. Its expert staff can customize a complete playing experience including horses, pros and certified umpires in addition to lessons and practice sessions as part of its' Polo On Demand program, the only polo club in the U.S. to offer the unique program.
The Club Hotline is 561-644-5050. It will be updated every day at 8 a.m. for both players and fans.