By Sharon Robb
WELLINGTON, Fl., March 18, 2018---Defending champion GSA became the first team in tournament history to win back-to-back titles in the fifth annual $50,000 National 12-Goal Tournament Saturday at Grand Champions Polo Club.
After a close first half, GSA (Henry Porter, 2, Santino Magrini, 3, Toro Ruiz, 5, Nachi Viana 2) dominated Beverly Equestrian (Bill Ballhaus, 0, Hilario Figueras, 2, Tolito Ocampo, 4, Carlucho Arellano, 5) for an impressive 12-5 victory Saturday in front of a packed house and worldwide ChukkerTV audience.
For the second year in a row, GSA won by a seven-goal margin. Last year the team of Porter, Magrini, Ruiz and Juan Martin Zubia defeated Casablanca (Matias Gonzalez, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Jesse Bray), 13-6.
"Defending the title is always the toughest, there is more pressure and we knew everybody wanted to win it," Ruiz said.
When asked what makes this team so special, GSA coach and Argentine 7-goaler Matias Magrini said, "They are kids. They are young. They have a lot of energy. They enjoy playing together. They grew up together and are great friends. They work hard and deserve it. They end up playing really nice.
"For me, winning is special always," Magrini said. "This one is nice because they were defending. Last year was great because it was a challenge trying to make the guys play as a team."
GSA remains the youngest team in history to win the eight-team, single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament, the only 12-goal tournament in the nation to offer major prize money. This year's team age average is 18 (Porter, 18, Magrini, 16, Ruiz, 19 and Viana, 19).
The championship final was played in memory of Steve Orthwein. The renowned polo player and visionary inducted into the Polo Hall of Fame in 2011, died last week in his Wellington home at age 72. A moment of silence was observed before the game.
Toro Ruiz, enjoying his finest season in polo in Wellington, was named Most Valuable Player. Ruiz scored a game-high nine goals.
"Their team is amazing, they have been playing very good and been playing a lot together," Ruiz said. "We knew it was going to be difficult. We tried the first three chukkers but we missed a lot.
"Knowing the other team is amazing, we started to play better and better and started scoring," Ruiz said. "The first three chukkers Tolito was maybe alone and when we talked at halftime that one had to be with Tolito and Santino was there."
Ruiz was also awarded the inaugural Steve Orthwein Sportsmanship Award for his selfless act of sportsmanship in the second chukker. Figueras went down with 4:51 left. As play continued, Ruiz stopped to help him with his mallet and to make sure he was uninjured.
"It is important to be a good sportsman first in polo and this is what Matias has taught us," Ruiz said.
"We came to this final to enjoy it," Ruiz said. "We know the four of us play good. Nobody thinks they are better than the other one. We just hit the ball and play."
The game was close in the first half with the teams playing a 2-2 first chukker and 0-0 defensive second chukker. Ocampo's angle cut shot from the corner with 2:57 left gave Beverly Equestrian a 4-3 halftime lead.
"I told them they were giving too much room to Tolito," Magrini said of his halftime talk. "He is playing amazing and had an unbelievable game. I told them to not give them the space and release the ball. They started putting pressure on them and things started coming through. And they gave room to Toro. When you give room to Toro, he is very dangerous."
The road to the title was not an easy one for GSA that defeated Team USPA 8-7 in overtime in the semifinals.
"I think both tournament wins are just as special," Porter said. "The first time because we had such a great season and it was a great end to it. This year we had a new guy on the team, Nachi replaced Zubia. And obviously, Nachi is 2 goals and Zubia is 6. It just shows how much we have all improved as a team for us to win it with this team as well.
"This may be even more special because we won it twice in a row," Porter said. "This year was a tougher tournament than last year. I am overwhelmed."
Porter, who saw Figueras go down and tried to tell the officials to wait, was impressed with Ruiz sportsmanship during the game.
"We have been brought up that way," Porter said. "Matias has taught us. He is exactly the same. If something happens, no matter where you are in the game, you stop and respect your fellow player. Sportsmanship is more important than winning."
The prize money will help pay bills, Porter said. There will be a celebratory dinner and party on Sunday, but most of the money will go back into polo.
"Because we play so much and there are so many expenses we have to pay, pretty much all of that will go straight to the bills," Porter said. "For sure, we will go and party tomorrow."
Dolfina Marquez, 13, ridden by Santino Magrini in the third chukker, was named American Polo Horse Association Best Registered horse for the game. Her groom was awarded $100 by American Polo Horse Association executive director Tiana Smicklas.
The APHA was created in 2006 by the legendary Polo Hall of Famer Sunny Hale to recognize polo ponies in America and encourages events that showcase them and hard-working dedication of grooms.
Yatay Shazan, 10, ridden by Tolito Ocampo in the fifth chukker, was selected the Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony of the game.
Rosinanta, a bay mare ridden by Henry Porter in the fifth chukker, was named Grand Champions Polo Club Best Playing Pony of the tournament.
Arellano and Ocampo shared scoring honors for Beverly Equestrian with two goals each. The 11-goal team also received on goal on handicap. Porter added two goals and Magrini had one for GSA.
Global Student Accomodation (GSA), which created the student accommodation sector, is sponsoring polo for the second year including a 20-goal team. The global communities give students the space to grow in the direction that matters most to them when they are away from their homes.
Grand Champions Polo Club and Santa Rita Polo Farm is the largest and most unique private 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.