Casablanca Wins Grand Champions Cup Spring Season-Opener At Grand Champions Polo Club; Kris Kampsen Named MVP
By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Grand Champions Polo Club
On a picture-perfect Sunday morning for polo, Casablanca, one of the winningest teams in Grand Champions Polo Club history, won the spring season-opener Grand Champions Cup.
Trailing after the opening day, Casablanca rallied to defeat Power Horse, 18-17.
In the 12-chukker battle of 19-goal teams, Casablanca (Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Sebastian Merlos, Kris Kampsen) had as much as a six-goal lead (16-10) in the tenth chukker before Power Horse (Walter Scherb, Michael Bickford, Tincho Merlos, Nic Roldan) staged a late rally but ran out of time.
The game marked the return of Kris Kampsen to his first championship final after being sidelined since the summer with a broken neck suffered in a serious mountain biking accident.
Kampsen, 34, was named Most Valuable Player. It was the third consecutive year the Tampa native has won the Grand Champions Cup. He also won with Power Horse and Psycho Bunny. Kampsen has played ten games since doctors gave him the green light to play and remove his neck brace.
“It feels great, I am so happy and so lucky to be back,” Kampsen said. “It’s been really good. I missed it bad. I was dying to play. I started out slowly when I got back but now I am going to go full-speed.
“It was great to win today’s game. We got a little bit relaxed. When you get a large lead you get a little complacent but it went really good.”
Players and sponsors are happy to see Kampsen playing again. Grand Champions Polo Club manager Juan Olivera joked they were renaming the tournament the Kampsen Cup since he has won it so many times.
“It’s really nice to see Kris back,” Ganzi said. “He is a good player and fun to have around. He plays really well at Grand Champions and brings a competitive edge to spring and fall polo. I knew he would always come back. I was worried when the accident happened. I knew he would have a long road to recovery but he’s back being the old Kris.”
For Ganzi and Bollini it was a big week. On Monday, the longtime friends and teammates won the 22-Goal Hall of Fame Cup with Sebastian Merlos, Gonzalito Pieres and Rodrigo Andrade for Aspen Valley Polo Club and Ganzi was named MVP. On Thursday, they teamed with brothers Justin and Benji Daniels on Pony Express to win the Jimmer Newman Memorial PTF Junior Championship and Bollini was named MVP.
“It was a lot of fun, a lot of polo,” said Bollini, 20, a junior at Florida Atlantic University. “I got to play with great players. I’m happy about playing well today. It was great playing with and against the Merlos brothers.
“Four days in one week is a new one for me,” said Ganzi, 17, who also played in the first Matthew Cohen Polo Invitational along with his sister Riley at Pony Express on Saturday. “For the horses it was tough. It was good to win a lot in the four days I played, and play a lot of good polo with a lot of good teammates on a lot of fun teams.
“It’s a blessing to get to play with and against so many top players in the world,” Ganzi said. “It improves my game to play with new and different players.”
The spring season-opener was held over two days, with the first six chukkers on Friday and final six chukkers on Sunday. Power Horse led after the first-day action, 8-7.
Casablanca was a different team on Sunday, tying the game three times (8-8, 9-9, 10-10) before reeling off six unanswered goals for a 16-10 advantage.
Power Horse started digging itself out of a hole in the 11th chukker and came within two goals (18-16) in the final two minutes of the game. Tincho Merlos scored the final Power Horse goal with 34 seconds to cut the lead to one as time ran out.
“It happens a lot in polo,” Bollini said. “Momentum strikes and you are on a roll then you get too comfortable. You let one goal pass and then another one. As soon as you know it, you are back to square one. This is one of my biggest wins.”
In the final, Sebastian Merlos led Casablanca with three goals. Bollini, Ganzi and Kampsen each scored two goals. Tincho Merlos led Power Horse with a game-high seven goals. Scherb added two goals.
In the opening game on Friday, Casablanca had balanced scoring. Kampsen, Sebastian Merlos and Bollini each scored two goals. Ganzi added one goal. For Power Horse, Tincho Merlos and Nic Roldan each had three goals. Walter Scherb and Michael Bickford each had one goal.
The Grand Champions Cup was the first of six medium-goal tournaments that are scheduled for the nine-year-old club. Other spring tournaments are: April 29-May 1, Spring Challenge; May 6-8, Sun Cup; May 13-15, USPA Eastern Challenge; May 20-22, Polo Gear Challenge Cup; and May 26-29,The Memorial.
During the Grand Champions’ spring season, amateur polo players have the opportunity to play with and against some of the world’s top professional polo players.
ChukkerTV is live streaming Grand Champions Polo Club games along with other games around the U.S. during the 2016 season with polo broadcasters Toby Wayman and Dale Schwetz calling the action.
Grand Champions Polo Club is the nation’s busiest and most innovative polo club. The USPA-member club hosts polo tournaments ranging from six to 20-goal in addition to special events.
The club also features The Polo School, dedicated to teaching polo to all ages, particularly grass roots youth. Its mission is to provide individuals opportunities in polo. The Polo School operates in Wellington January through June and September through November.