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Interscholastic Regional Polo

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Grand Champions Defeats The Polo School; Heads To Virginia For Girls Southeastern Interscholastic Regional Championship

Grand Champions winning team Mia Astrada, Riley Ganzi, Chase Schwartz. Photo by Scott Fisher

WELLINGTON, FL-Feb. 3, 2014----Grand Champions Polo Club's girls team qualified for the Feb. 14-16 USPA Girls Southeastern Interscholastic Regional at the Virginia Polo Center in Charlottesville, Va.

On a sun-drenched Sunday at Grand Champions Polo Club Arena, the talented team of Mia Astrada, Riley Ganzi and Chase Schwartz was impressive in the Girls Southeast Interscholastic Preliminary II tournament qualifier.

Grand Champions won 12-4 over The Polo School team of Jacqui Casey, Alyssa Tranchilla and Rachel Kelly in the championship final.

Grand Champions' Mia Astrada (1) on a fast break. Photo by Scott Fisher

Astrada and Schwartz each scored five goals and were named to the All-Star team along with Casey and Kelly. Hope Arellano of Palm Beach Polo earned the Sportsmanship Award. Casey's gelding Darren was named Best Playing Pony. Grand Champions "B" string was selected as the best playing string of ponies.

The future of women's polo is in good hands based on the caliber of play during the two-day tournament. John Gobin coached Grand Champions and Charles Muldoon coached The Polo School.

Grand Champions coach John Gobin talks strategy with his players before the game. Photo by Scott Fisher

The girls also got some great advice between chukkers from their fathers including polo players Miguel Novillo Astrada, Joey Casey, Marc Ganzi, Julio Arellano and Horton Schwartz.

Argentine 10-goaler Miguel Astrada of Flight Options giving his daughter Mia last-minute advice before the final. Photo by Scott Fisher

The chemistry among the Grand Champions players was evident.

"It was great playing on the team, everybody was playing great together," said Schwartz, 17, who will make her debut in the southeastern regional tournament. "We're starting to work really well as a team now, it's really exciting."

Chase Schwartz of Grand Champions hits the ball with teammate Riley Ganzi following the play. Photo by Scott Fisher

Trailing 4-3 late in the second chukker, Grand Champions turned it on with goals from Schwartz and Ganzi to regain the lead (5-4) and penalty shot by Schwartz to lead 6-4 at the half. Grand Champions pulled away and never relinquished the lead while shutting out The Polo School in the second half.

"We started getting really aggressive, we just said we couldn't lose this and started picking up the pace," Schwartz said. "We had a lot of great coaching at halftime from my dad about mentality."

Despite pressure from Jacqui Casey of The Polo School, Riley Ganzi of Grand Champions reaches for the ball before scoring. Photo by Scott Fisher

Gobin encouraged his players while pacing along the boards throughout the four-chukker final.

"I didn't expect our team to be as strong as this" Gobin said. "I think we played really well the last two chukkers where we came together. I don't think we played that well in the first half. We got lucky with a penalty-one call and we just didn't look back.

"They really wanted to win," said Gobin, who worked with the team for two weeks before the tournament. "It's nice to see them going to Charlottesville. The quality of all the teams has improved a lot. We need to get more arena polo in South Florida. The Ganzis are pushing it forward with all the polo and it's only going to benefit all of us."

Grand Champions' Riley Ganzi maintains possession despite pressure from defender Jacqui Casey. Photo by Scott Fisher

Riley Ganzi competed in her third consecutive southeastern regional.

"It feels amazing to win, we worked really hard for this," Ganzi said. "We put in a lot of team work. I have a lot of trust and faith in my teammates so I thought we would do pretty well. The other team was tough competition.

"I am very excited, I love girls polo especially I/I, it's my favorite," Ganzi said.

Mia Astrada of Grand Champions takes off after the ball with backup from teammate Riley Ganzi. Photo by Scott Fisher

Even though she is the youngest member of the team, Astrada has played in three preliminary southeastern tournaments and practices arena polo when her family comes to Wellington for the winter season.

"I am very happy to win, we are going to travel," Astrada said. "We are the youngest ones in this tournament, we didn't know how we would do but we wanted to win."

All smiles from left to right, Mia Astrada and her little sister; Riley Ganzi, Chase Schwartz, USPA CEO Peter Rizzo, Grand Champions coach John Gobin, I/I Director Amy Wisehart, I/I Program Assistant Ali Davidge, Rachel Kelly, The Polo School coach Charlie Muldoon, Alyssa Tranchilla, Jacqui Casey. Photo by Scott Fisher

Women's and girls' polo is the fastest growing sector in polo today. Collegiate programs are growing and the Women's Championship Tournament events are now held throughout the world including Dubai. Grand Champions will host the WCT championship women's and junior tournaments April 8-12.

"I was really proud of all the girls and certainly my daughter," Grand Champions Polo Club owner and Flight Options player Melissa Ganzi said. "I've seen the girls make a lot of progress and that's really nice.

Grand Champions' Riley Ganzi chases down Jacqui Casey of The Polo School as she drives to goal. Photo by Scott Fisher

"It's a great team sport and some of these girls will have an opportunity to play in college and be recruited by different coaches and teams."

It was the first time the prestigious tournament was hosted by a South Florida polo club.

"This is the future of polo," said Ganzi, host of the tournament. "It's great to start with the kids. For the last two years our kids had to travel to Virginia to do this. Florida is one of the strongest regions. This is the home of winter polo. We have the best polo in the world in America but Florida is really lagging behind in the interscholastic and intercollegiate divisions so it was important to us to have it here."

Audi's Marc Ganzi talking mallet grip with his daughter Riley of Grand Champions. Photo by Scott Fisher

Grand Champions sponsored all three teams. The club provided the arena venue and all the horses except for three.

If Grand Champions wins in Virginia, the team will advance to the March 6-9 National Interscholastic Championship at the University of Connecticut.

Jacqui Casey of The Polo School goes for the back shot with Mia Astrada of Grand Champions defends. Photo by Scott Fisher

This weekend Grand Champions will host four boys teams (Grand Champions, The Polo School, Palm Beach Polo and Port Mayaca) in the Southeastern Open Interscholastic Preliminary II Tournament at Polo West. The opening game is Friday at 6:30 p.m. and final is Saturday at 11 a.m.

For game recaps, news, features and photos of Grand Champions Polo Club-related events, go to www.grandchampionspoloclub.org.

Flight Options player Miguel Astrada coaching his daughter Mia during the game. Photo by Scott Fisher


JANUARY 30-FEBRUARY 23: Ylvisaker Cup-Tuesday, Audi vs. Las Monjitas, 11:30 a.m..; Thursday, Flight Options vs. Orchard Hill, 1 p.m.; Friday, Audi vs. CT Energia, 3 p.m.; Feb. 9, Flight Options vs. Villa del Lago/Casablanca, noon; Feb. 12, Audi vs. Los Machitos/Heathcote, 4 p.m.; Feb. 13, Flight Options vs. Lechuza Caracas, 1 p.m.; Feb 16, Quarterfinals; Feb. 19, Semifinals; Feb. 23, George Haas Cup Final, noon; Ylvisaker Cup Finals.

FEBRUARY 14: National Museum of Polo & Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

FEBRUARY 15: Outback 40-Goal Challenge, 3 p.m.

FEBRUARY 16-MARCH 2: C.V. Whitney Cup

FEBRUARY 22-MARCH 8: Iglehart Cup

MARCH 5-23: USPA Piaget Gold Cup

MARCH 26-APRIL 20: 110th Maserati U.S. Open Polo Championships

The player lineup for the championship final between Grand Champions and The Polo School. Photo by Scott Fisher