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Audi, Kaia Polo Advance Into WPL All-Star Challenge Sunday Final; Toccalino Scores First Two-Pointer Of Season

WELLINGTON, Fla., February 24, 2024---The stage is set for the highly-anticipated World Polo League All-Star Challenge final Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club.

By Sharon Robb

Photos by Candace Ferreira

Kaia Polo and Audi will play for the first WPL title of the 26-goal season after eight teams competed in the single-elimination tournament. Game time is 4 p.m. on Field 2.

In Friday's opening semifinal, Kaia Polo (Larry Austin, 0, Lerin Zubiaurre, 7, Mariano Aguerre, 7, Santi Toccalino, 8) advanced into the championship with an impressive 17-14 victory over La Irenita (Gilberto Sayao, 0, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Pablo MacDonough, 10).

In the second semifinal, it was a defensive battle between Audi (Marc Ganzi, 1, Nic Roldan, 8, Jeta Castagnola, 10, Pancho Pensadon, 7) and Alegria (Sugar Erskine, 6, Jason Crowder, 5, Pipe Vercellino, 7, Fred Mannix, 7) before Audi broke open a close game in the final chukker and went on to win, 11-8.

Alegria started out with a 1-0 lead on handicap and added two goals from Erskine and Mannix for a 3-1 lead after the first chukker. Alegria maintained a slim one-goal margin, 4-3, and 5-4 in the next two chukkers.

Audi shut out Alegria, 1-0, and tied the game 5-5 on Roldan's cut shot with 1:12 left in the fourth chukker. Early in the fifth chukker, Audi took the lead, 6-5, for the first time when Ganzi converted a 40-yard penalty at the 5:44 mark. Three minutes later, Alegria tied the game, 6-6, on Erskine's goal but it was the closest Alegria would get.

Castagnola scored three goals in the last two chukkers. Audi regained the lead, 7-6, in the final minute of the fifth chukker when Castagnola found a gap and delighted the crowd with his five ball bounces off his mallet before scoring.

In the opening minute of the sixth chukker, Castagnola worked his way downfield for another goal and 8-6 lead, then turned around and cleared out Erskine's goal attempt. Mannix scored at 4:43 to cut Audi's lead to 8-7. Castagnola converted a 60-yard penalty for a 9-7 lead. Vercellino came back with a penalty conversion of his own to again cut the lead to one, 9-8.

In the final minute of play, Ganzi scored back-to-back goals, one from the field and one from the penalty line to put the game away.

Castagnola scored a game-high six goals. Ganzi had three goals and Roldan and Bensadon each had one. Vercellino and Mannix each had three goals for Alegria and Erskine added one.

Audi outshot Alegria, 21-12. Alegria led in knock-ins, 10-5, and throw-ins, 12-6. Audi, plagued with penalties in its first game, managed to cut its fouling down to five fouls while Alegria had nine.

In the opening game, Kaia Polo led from start to finish. Playing well on both ends of the field and holding MacDonough to two goals in the first half, Kaia Polo took advantage of La Irenita penalties, putting Toccalino on the penalty line six times.

Opening with a 3-0 lead on handicap, the 22-goal team put together by Nick Manifold, built a 7-2 advantage in the opening chukker and got stronger as the game progressed. Kaia Polo led 11-5 after two chukkers and 12-6 at the half.

La Irenita bounced back in the second half, shutting out Kaia Polo, 2-0, in the fourth chukker and outscoring them 8-5 in the final three chukkers but ran out of time. Kaia Polo led 17-12 with 4:29 left in the game.

In addition to Toccalino's 11 goals, Aguerre had two goals and Zubiaurre added one. For La Irenita, Gonzalito Pieres had a team-high six goals and MacDonough finished with five goals. Tomacho Pieres had three goals all in the final chukker.

La Irenita outshot Kaia Polo, 24-16, after both teams had 10 shots on goal in the first half. Kaia Polo led in knock-ins, 10-3. Each team won 14 throw-is. La Irenita led in fouls, 14-11.

Kaia Polo, playing its second year in the WPL, has compiled 34 goals, including six on handicap, in its first two games of the season. Kaia Polo, named after Austin's Rhodesian Ridgeback, won its opener with a 17-11 win over Travieso.

Argentine 8-goaler Santi Toccalino, a one-man scoring machine had a game-high 11 goals including the WPL's first two-pointer from the center line. With 5:29 in the second chukker, Toccalino kept the ball on the ground when he found open space to the goal. He has scored 20 goals in two games.

The WPL, the winter season's biggest highlight, continues to make history as the only 26-goal polo played outside of Argentina.

Last year underdog Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, 3, Tomacho Pieres, 6, Barto Castagnola, 10, Jesse Bray, 7) posted a 14-9 victory over 2021 champion and tournament favorite Richard Mille (Gilberto Sayao, 0, Gonzalito Pieres, 9, Pablo MacDonough, 10, Alejandro Novillo Astrada, 7). Argentine 10-goaler Barto Castagnola was named MVP Player after scoring a game-high 11 goals.



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