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Defending Champion Audi, Piaget Rally For Wins In USPA National 20-Goal Tournament at Grand Champions

Defending Champion Audi, Piaget Rally For Wins In USPA National 20-Goal Tournament at Grand Champions

KIG's Brandon Phillips (3) controls the ball on his way downfield. Photo by Scott Fisher
WELLINGTON, FL- Nov. 15, 2013 - Defending champion Audi and Piaget had to mount comebacks with second-half rallies to win Friday in the USPA National 20-Goal Tournament at Grand Champions Polo Club.

Audi, trailing after four chukkers, came back to defeat upset-minded Palm Beach Equine, 10-6.

Piaget rallied for five goals in the final chukker to turn back KIG, 12-8.

Audi (Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida) needed three chukkers to find its rhythm. It also enabled Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, making his first appearance with Audi this fall, to reacquaint himself with his teammates.

Palm Beach Equine's Luis Escobar (3) maintains possession despite Audi's father-and-son Carlitos Gracida (2) and Carlos Gracida (4) closing in. Photo by Scott Fisher

Gracida was playing in Mexico during the USPA North American Cup presented by Beluga which Audi won with substitute Michel Dorignac, the tournament MVP.

"We haven't played together, I just arrived from Mexico," Gracida Sr. said. "I didn't know how my horses were going to play, some of them played better than I expected and some of them played worse.

"I played worse than expected," Gracida Sr. said. "In the beginning I missed a lot of chances but I knew with the new fields, and everything else was like new so it took me three chukkers to start playing more my level.    

"In the second half I played some great," Gracida Sr. said. "We started playing with more confidence. When I started playing better the team got more confidence and we started making more plays."

Audi's Carlitos Gracida (2) closing in hard on Palm Beach Equine's Julio Ezcurra (2) trying to maintain possession. Photo by Scott Fisher

Palm Beach Equine (Carlucho Arellano, Julio Ezcurra, Luis Escobar, Scott Swerdlin) capitalized on Audi's inconsistent first-half play and missed scoring opportunities.

"We are a different team with Carlos," Ganzi said. "Carlos plays more forward and that requires Carlitos to play more defense because Carlos Sr. is more opportunistic. Michel was more stay at home, control the back and he and Nic would take turns distributing the ball to Carlitos and I. Now, the flow of the team changed and we had to adjust to that. It took us a couple of chukkers to do that.

"I don't think we can afford to play like that again," Ganzi said. "If we play like that again in this tournament we are going to lose. The teams are too good, there's not an easy team in the tournament and that was proven today."

Audi's Marc Ganzi (1) and his horse lean into the play as he backs the ball away from Palm Beach Equine's goal. Photo by Scott Fisher

Palm Beach Equine added to its two-goal handicap lead behind goals by Arellano, Escobar and Ezcurra and led 4-1 and 5-2 after two chukkers. In a defensive third chukker, Palm Beach Equine was held scoreless while Roldan scored quickly off the throw-in at 7:10 to cut their lead to 5-3 at the half.

After Escobar scored early again in the fourth quarter, Audi began to chip away at Palm Beach Equine's 6-3 lead with goals from Carlitos Gracida at 1:45 and penalty shot by Ganzi to trail only, 6-5.

Audi took complete control in the fifth chukker shutting out Palm Beach Equine while getting two goals from Gracida Sr., including a beautiful wide open angle shot from 50 yards out and one goal from Roldan after a great pass from Carlitos Gracida for an 8-6 lead.

Palm Beach Equine's Carlucho Arellano (1) fights for the ball with Audi's Nic Roldan (3) with teammates Julio Ezcurra (2) of Palm Beach Equine and Carlitos Gracida (2) of Audi looking on. Photo by Scott Fisher

"It took a while to adjust playing with my dad after playing with Michel," Carlitos Gracida said. "My dad goes up more and Michel stays back more. We had to get used to that. Once Nic and my dad clicked, it was better. We knew it was going to take one or two games. We know they wanted to beat us but we wanted to beat them, too."

Audi put the game out of reach with goals from Gracida Sr. and Roldan while holding them scoreless for the second consecutive chukker.

"I like this team, I like the youth," Gracida Sr. said. "They are young, talented and fantastic. It's inspiring to play with the next generation. Being defending champions there is always a target on our back. I felt pressure because we cannot lose."

Roldan finished with a game-high five goals and Gracida Sr. added four second-half goals. Ganzi had one. Escobar scored two goals, Ezcurra and Arellano each had one for Palm Beach Equine.

Audi's Nic Roldan (3) and Carlucho Arellano (1) of Palm Beach Equine try to outlean each other for the ball. Photo by Scott Fisher

"I played terrible today," Roldan said. "We knew things weren't going our way, we were hitting horses and missing goals. We just had to be patient. At one point in time in the game we knew we were going to click and we did. Carlos started scoring goals. Marc played really well especially with the man. Carlitos played great and was hitting great back shots. Today wasn't a good day for us but we still won. We can play 100 percent better."

In the second game of the doubleheader, Piaget (Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Piki Alberdi, Juan Bollini) and KIG (Juancito Bollini/Bash Kazi, Jeff Blake, Brandon Phillips, Michel Dorignac) kept the score close as the wind started kicking up and temperature dropped 15 degrees.

For Piaget, it was a must-win situation to make the semifinals after losing its opener.

The lead changed hands seven times before Piaget took control in the sixth chukker. Bollini said he felt his team was always in control despite trailing. "We were dominant the entire game, we were just missing goals," Bollini said.

KIG's Bash Kazi (1) maintains possession with teammate Jeff Blake (2) backing him up despite Piaget's Piki Alberdi (3), Juan Bollini (4) and Jeff Hall (2) closing in. Photo by Scott Fisher

"We have a good team and everybody played their position," Bollini said. "We know what to do and are playing well together, it's a good, balanced team. Jeff had an unbelievable game. He was going forward and had some unbelievable goals."

Piaget's Piki Alberdi and Jeff Hall combined for five goals in the final chukker to spark the rally. Each finished with five goals. Ganzi and Bollini each added one goal. For KIG, Phillips led with four goals, Dorignac had three and one goal was by handicap.

"We controlled the ball a little bit better in the last two chukkers," said Alberdi, one of three 8-goal rated players in the tournament. "Instead of trying to pass the ball long, we stayed together more with shorter passing and that helped us. We tried to score too fast instead of making the play and scoring the goals.

Piaget's Piki Alberdi (3) hits the ball in a crowd, undaunted by KIG defenders Jeff Blake (2), Juancito Bollini (1) and Michel Dorignac (4). Photo by Scott Fisher

"We needed this win, we scored the goals we needed to get into the semifinals and now we are safe," Alberdi said. "We played well as a team."

With KIG leading 8-7 early in the sixth chukker, Alberdi scored three unanswered goals to give Piaget a 10-8 lead with 4:10 left. Hall added two more insurance goals on a 40-yard penalty shot and goal from the field after taking the throw-in and racing 150 yards to score.

"This was only our second game together and we knew how to play a little bit better with each other, we were feeling more comfortable," Hall said. "We played the better horses in the end and that always helps. Now we're in the semifinals and it should be good. Hopefully, we can keep it together."

Piaget's Jeff Hall (2) goes for the hook on KIG's Jeff Blake (2). Photo by Scott Fisher

Added Ganzi, "I am super happy with the comeback. We had a rough start but then we got it together. It was excellent teamwork, good chemistry and some wonderful goals by Jeff and Piki and great defense from Juan."

After an off day on Saturday, the tournament resumes with two games on Sunday. At 10 a.m., ELG (1-0) plays KIG (0-1) and at 3 p.m. Casablanca (0-0) plays its first game of the tournament against Palm Beach Equine (0-1).

The semifinals are Thursday and championship final on Saturday, Nov. 23.

Six teams are entered in the two-week tournament that is broken down into two divisons. Audi, Casablanca and Palm Beach Equine are in the West bracket and KIG, ELG and Piaget are in the East bracket. The six teams are:

Audi (18), Marc Ganzi, Carlitos Gracida, Nic Roldan, Carlos Gracida.

Casablanca (19), Grant Ganzi, Sugar Erskine, Hector Galindo, Mike Azzaro.

ELG (19), Avery Chapman, Kris Kampsen, Guille Aguero, Tommy Biddle.

Palm Beach Equine (17), Scott Swerdlin, Julio Ezcurra, Carlucho Arellano, Luis Escobar.

Piaget (20), Melissa Ganzi, Jeff Hall, Piki Alberdi, Juan Bollini.

KIG (18) Bash Kazi/Juancito Bollini, Brandon Phillips, Michel Dorignac, Jeff Blake.

KIG's Jeff Blake (2) getting ready to hit the ball to teammate Brandon Phillips (3). Photo by Scott Fisher

GRAND CHAMPIONS FALL SCHEDULE

Nov. 13-23, USPA National 20-Goal Championship

Nov. 24, Turkey Trot Juniors Tournament

Nov. 30, The Legends of Polo, 1 p.m. and International Cup, Team USA vs. Chile, 3 p.m.

GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB