The Polo School Blue Rallies To Win USPA-NYTS Qualifier In
Aspen Valley Polo Club Debut
By Arianna Delin, Sharon Robb for Aspen Valley Polo Club
In an exciting comeback, The Polo School Blue knocked off The Polo School Green, 5-4, in the USPA National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Qualifier Saturday at Sopris Mountain Field.
Rufino Merlos, the 9-year-old son of Argentine 9-goaler Tincho Merlos, rallied his team with three goals including the game-winner in the fourth and final chukker for the thrilling victory.
The Polo School Blue (Nikko Ramirez/Rufino Merlos, Riley Ganzi, Santos Bollini, Grant Ganzi) trailed for most of the game.
The Polo School Green (Santos Merlos, Olivia Merlos, Segundo Merlos, Michael Calle) led 4-2 early in the fourth chukker before “Rufi” got a hot mallet and played circles around older and more experienced players.
“Rufi was a machine out there, he was my MVP,” said tournament co-host Marc Ganzi. “I love the way he rides. He looks like a mini-Tincho. He is so smooth. This kid is going to be a superstar.”
Merlos was an overwhelming selection for the four-player All-Star team playing above his minus-one handicap. Joining Merlos on the All-Star team were his cousins Santos and Segundo Merlos and Grant Ganzi.
The NYTS event is a series of youth tournaments around the country with the top representatives from each of the country’s four zones advancing into a final championship match. The Sept. 1-4 National Championship will be hosted by Myopia Polo Club in South Hamilton, Mass.
The All-Star team selection is based on sportsmanship, horsemanship, playing ability at their current handicap and how they play as a team player.
It was the first time Aspen Valley Polo Club hosted an NYTS qualifier with the breathtaking 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop.
“This was a big deal for us, it is incredible we had a NYTS qualifier here in Aspen at 8,000 feet,” Ganzi said. “It’s nice to see the NYTS program growing and giving kids the opportunity to compete against each other. That’s priceless.”
The nine youth players from across the globe including Argentina, Ecuador and United States, played well above their ratings which was evident from the opening chukker.
Rufino and Segundo Merlos, 16, shared high scoring honors with three goals each. Rufino Merlos played only two chukkers, splitting time with Nikko Ramirez, celebrating his 14th birthday and making his NYTS debut. Bollini, Olivia Merlos and Grant Ganzi each added a goal.
“They played great,” Ganzi said. “I really like the discipline and fact they are all working on their equitation. They are all riding so well and putting the equitation first. You see the strides these kids are making in polo.”
Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the nation’s fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs with a membership increase of 75 percent since last season.
Aspen has become the “Hamptons of the West,” with a rich history in polo for nearly forty years. A town, mountain and ski resort all rolled into one in the Rocky Mountains, Aspen is fast becoming a polo destination and one of summer’s hottest tickets.
Polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly tournaments, Gladiator Arena Polo, Kids Polo and The Polo School at the club owned by Marc and Melissa Ganzi since 2014, in addition to practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.
Both Marc and Melissa Ganzi are avid players and patrons and “have put new life into polo” in the area according to local player Alex Gooding.
ChukkerTV, leaders in polo broadcasting, is live streaming the 2016 schedule including the NYTS qualifier and the prestigious and longstanding Rocky Mountain Cup.
ChukkerTV, featuring cutting-edge technology, was the first to introduce state-of-the-art live streaming technology in January, 2014 at Grand Champions Polo Club, Aspen Valley’s sister club.
ASPEN VALLEY 2016 SUMMER SCHEDULE
Emma Challenge, Sunday, Final, Flexjet vs. Tonkawa, 11 a.m. (MST); Kids Foot Mallet Exhibition; Subsidiary, La Karina, Los Amigos, Aspen Valley, 1 p.m. (MST).
Aug. 3-7, High Alpine Cup
Aug. 9, ChukkerTV Arena Challenge
Aug. 12-14, Mount Sopris Cup
Aug. 10-21, Rocky Mountain Open
Aug. 24-28, The Carbondale Classic