2021: THE YEAR OF KLENTNER RANCH
August 30, 2021
Coming off an undefeated run to raise their first Silver Cup® and continuing their domination throughout Pacific Coast Open bracket play, Klentner Ranch (Jesse Bray*, Jacob Klentner*, Justin Klentner, Santiago Toccalino, Tomas Garcia del Rio**) established themselves as the team to beat. Although losing injured team captain Santi Toccalino unexpectedly in the semifinals, Klentner Ranch regrouped with Tomas Garcia del Rio and secured their spot in the Pacific Coast Open Final on Sunday, August 29, against Bensoleimani.com (Ben Soleimani, Santiago Wulff, Tomas Alberdi*, Iñaki Laprida). Leading throughout the first half on penalty accuracy, the defending champions held off their opponents’ second-half drive to cap off the 16-goal season with their second consecutive USPA tournament title 11-9 and Klentner Ranch’s third Pacific Coast Open title.
“As we kept winning every game you would have expected a mounting pressure, but it wasn’t like that because Santi [Toccalino] was really instilling us to take it one game at a time.” – Jake Klentner
Although the final was the first full game with Tomas Garcia del Rio, Klentner Ranch found it easy to incorporate him into the team. “Coming into the semifinal and filling Santi’s [Toccalino] role is a testament to how good Tomas [Garcia del Rio] is and how much of a professional he is,” Jake Klentner said. “It was a privilege to play with both him and Santi. They are both such high-caliber players that every time I get to step on the field with them and learn something it’s a privilege and honor.”
Sticking to their original gameplan for the final, Klentner Ranch benefitted from the similarities between the two 8-goalers. “Santi [Toccalino] had a very long team meeting the night before the final,” Justin Klentner said. “He told us, ‘You can do it! Tomas plays like I do – very simple and classic. We’re going to play the way we’ve been playing and Tomas is going to fit into our group. We’re not going to try to adapt ourselves to his style.”
Showcasing his pinpoint accuracy from the penalty line, del Rio quickly created a significant lead with four unanswered goals for Klentner Ranch, including an open backshot made just before rolling over the end line. Silenced throughout the first two chukkers, Bensoleimani.com opened the third with a Penalty 2 conversion but Bray and del Rio immediately countered with a Penalty 2 each. Fighting to gain some forward momentum before the end of the chukker to get his team back in the game, Laprida forcefully broke up a Klentner Ranch play which enabled Wulff to hit a tailshot to goal. Tripled on the scoreboard, Klentner Ranch entered halftime up 6-2.
Reevaluating their offensive strategy, Bensoleimani.com came alive in the second half and quickly began to narrow the gap in the fourth chukker with three consecutive goals. Launching the ball high into the air, Alberdi made a long pass up to Laprida who was perfectly positioned to make the goal. Then, emerging from a pack of defenders, Wulff turned the ball and hit it downfield, arriving just in time to save it from the end line and add an epic open backshot goal to the tally.
Opening the fifth with his third goal of the game, Bray briefly extended the gap to three goals, but Alberdi retaliated with back-to-back Penalty 4 conversions to keep the game competitive. Firing on goal to end the chukker, del Rio gave Klentner Ranch the 9-7 advantage headed into the final chukker.
With the trophy still within reach for Bensoleimani.com, the battle continued in the sixth as Bray opened the scoring once more with a goal on 2021 Silver Cup® Best Playing Pony Cell Tower. Picking up another pair of penalty goals, Alberdi brought the scoreboard within one with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Jumping on a breakaway and sealing Klentner Ranch’s victory, Bray ended the game with a final score 11-9.
Ironically Santi Toccalino substituted for Tomas Garcia del Rio previously in the high goal at the International Polo Club Palm Beach (Wellington, Florida) when he suffered a similar injury. “Santi [Toccalino] helped win my semifinal in Florida when I pulled a muscle,” del Rio shared. “At least I could return the favor to him years later.” Playing in California for the first time, del Rio was eager to help his friend win the trophy. “I would have loved for him to have won, but I was happy to help him out any way I could,” del Rio said. “I want to thank Tomas [Garcia del Rio] for filling in for me, he’s a great friend of mine and he’s also a great player,” Toccalino said. “I was really happy that if I was not able to play that he was my substitute.”
Adopting the mindset of one game at a time, Klentner Ranch’s ability to focus worked in their favor. “We had to keep going forward one game at a time and putting our heads down, making a game plan for the team in front of us rather than the season as a whole,” Jake Klentner revealed. “Jesse [Bray] was instrumental in that. He and I would always send inspirational quotes back and forth to each other.”
Filling in for his father when Klentner Ranch won their first title in 2018, Jake Klentner was proud to raise the trophy on the family team. “I would attribute our success this season to my father because without him none of this would even be here,” Jake Klentner said. “He means so much to me personally, but he also means so much to the club [Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club]. For him to be able to win the Pacific Coast Open for a second year in a row and for him and I to win it together means everything.”
Contributing five goals to the tally, Jesse Bray was named Most Valuable Player. “It’s a great to win MVP, but it means the team did well,” Bray said. “It wasn’t just me out there, everyone played really well today and to win a final like this the whole team has to play well.”
Bray also received the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club award for Best String of the Season. “To receive Best String of the Season means a lot to me and it’s probably my favorite award to win,” Bray commented. “It shows all the hard work my grooms and I have put into my horses as well as everybody who is behind me. My dad [Graham Bray] has made four of the 12 horses I’ve been playing. I had two from Justin [Klentner] that I played for most of the season and the rest have been mine.”
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to 15-year-old Disney, a grey mare played by Jesse Bray as a spare in the first and sixth chukkers. Receiving her second blanket, Disney was previously named BPP of the 2017 Pacific Coast Open Final.
Setting his sights on another open trophy, Justin Klentner aspires to one day add the U.S. Open Polo Championship® to his list of accolades. “I want to win the U.S. Open Polo Championship®, it needs to be on my tombstone when I die!” Justin Klentner exclaimed.
Ending their 16-goal season undefeated, Justin Klentner credited chemistry as the key to their consistent success. “It’s a cliché but Jake [Klentner] is my son so we have great chemistry! Jesse [Bray] is our adopted son, and Santi [Toccalino] just fit right in there. To fit into our group is not an easy thing, we’ve been doing this for a little while now so it was really special. I’m so proud of all of them because they were never rattled and they never quit.” “We had really tough games and we could have lost many of them,” Toccalino added. “Many of them were decided in the last two plays and the same in the final which was decided on the last throw in. Sometimes you get a little bit of luck, but also I think that we built a good group of people, not just a good team with Klentner Ranch.”
*Jesse Bray is a Graduating Team USPA Member. Jacob Klentner and Tomas Alberdi are Team USPA Alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
**Tomas Garcia del Rio substituted for Santiago Toccalino beginning in the fourth chukker of the Pacific Coast Open semifinal with two minutes remaining.