WELLINGTON, FL-May 19, 2013—Audi Polo Team became the first team to win two tournament titles Sunday in the Grand Champions Polo Club’s 2013 spring tournament circuit.
It wasn’t easy winning the fast-paced, seesaw battle that saw the lead change nine times.
Lucas Lalor scored the game-winner with five seconds remaining in regulation time to give Audi a thrilling 8-7 victory over Piaget.
With Piaget’s Brandon Phillips closely defending Lalor, the 22-year-old took a pass from teammate Marc Ganzi, whose mallet head broke after hitting the line drive to Lalor, who tapped it in for the score.
Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Mike Azzaro, making his Grand Champions season debut filling in for injured Nic Roldan, and Lalor, each scored three goals for Audi.
“It was a perfect pass which made it easy for me to score,” said the 22-year-old Lalor, one of six Grand Champions players who competed in the final. “It was a competitive game for sure. Anyone could have won it.”
Piaget’s Moritz Gaedeke of Germany was named Most Valuable Player. He scored two goals and played well defensively including deflecting a penalty shot attempt.
|Piaget’s MVP Moritz Gaedeke of Germany fights for the ball against Audi’s Mike Azzaro. Photo by Scott Fisher
Audi also won the USPA Spring Challenge two weeks ago.
Father-and-son Marc and Grant Ganzi teamed up for the win against wife-and-mother Melissa Ganzi in the good-spirited family battle.
Grant Ganzi defended his mother well, preventing a goal midway through the game prompting announcer Gus Whitelaw to quip, “No dessert for Grant tonight.”
|Piaget’s Melissa Ganzi on her way to scoring the first of two goals with her son Grant Ganzi of Audi closely defending. Photo by Scott Fisher
Melissa Ganzi won the family scoring battle, however, with two goals. Marc and Grant each scored one goal.
Lalor plays for both Audi and Piaget and was prepared to play against familiar faces Melissa Ganzi, Phillips and Juan Bollini, who he has played with and against since joining Grand Champions.
“It always makes it fun playing with players you know, like Marc and Granti, who played awesome today,” Lalor said.
|Audi’s Grant Ganzi keeps possession of the ball despite Piaget’s charging Juan Bollini, Brandon Phillips and Melissa Ganzi. Photo by Scott Fisher
“We knew it would be a tough game with Bollini. He is always tough to play against especially here. We just wanted to hit the ball well to get into scoring position. We are very happy with the win. Playing with Mike Azzaro was fun. He is a great player and he makes it fun.”
Azzaro is scheduled to return to San Antonio, Texas onMonday morning after filling in this past weekend for Roldan, who has been nursing a rib injury.
Azzaro, 47, coming off back-to-back U.S. Open titles with Zacara, will move up from 7 to 8-goals on June 1st.
“This was painful and fun, the only problem is playing with Lucas, he is difficult,” joked Azzaro. “Seriously, he was awesome and it was a fun deal playing with Grant, Marc and Lucas. I really enjoyed this.”
The teams were so evenly-matched that it was only fitting the game was decided in the final five seconds.
Piaget jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the opening chukker with a penalty goal from Phillips and goal from Melissa Ganzi despite Grant Ganzi closely defending. Piaget missed two scoring opportunities that would have given them a 4-0 lead.
Instead Audi came roaring back in the second chukker, outscoring Piaget, 3-1, with goals from Grant Ganzi, Azzaro and Marc Ganzi, tying the game at 3-3. Gaedeke worked his way through a traffic of defenders to put Piaget back in the lead, 4-3.
|Audi’s Grant Ganzi, Lucas Lalor and Mike Azzaro teaming up as a pack against Piaget. Photo by Scott Fisher
Audi came up with another 3-1 scoring barrage in the fourth chukker with two goals from Azzaro and one from Lalor to take a 6-5 lead. Both teams played evenly in the fifth chukker, each scoring a goal enabling Audi to remain in the lead, 7-6.
It was a defensive battle in the final chukker when Bollini and Gaedeke put the pressure on. Gaedeke deflected Marc Ganzi’s 60-yard penalty shot attempt and Bollini shut down Lalor’s goal attempt.
|Piaget’s big-hitting Juan Bollini winding up to hit the ball while Audi’s Marc Ganzi pressuring on defense.
The game deadlocked again at 7-7 after Lalor and Phillips scored. After that it was anybody’s game until Marc Ganzi and Lalor teamed up for the game-winner.
In a competitive subsidiary final, ELG/Palm House (Glenn Straub, Carlucho Arellano, Tommy Biddle, Avery Chapman) won 8-5 over Pony Express (Bob Daniels, Justin/Benji Daniels, Tomas Goti, Pancho Eddy), last weekend’s USPA Sun Cup champion.
|ELG/Palm House winning subsidiary team of Avery Chapman, Tommy Biddle, Carlucho Arellano and MVP Glenn Straub; awards presenter Bruce Steinberg and runner-up Pony Express Bob Daniels, Justin Daniels, Tomas Goti, Pancho Eddy. Photo by Scott Fisher
“Our team played as a team,” Chapman said. “There is no I in team in polo. You really have to play as a team together, using all your players. That’s what we did. Glenn played fantastic at 1, Tommy and Carlucho in the middle, me assisting them, it worked out well.
“Every year Grand Champions gets better and better,” Chapman said. “We call it Friendly Fridays and Spicy Sundays. We had played this team before and we knew what didn’t work so this time we did something different.”
|ELG/Palm House subsidiary champion MVP Glenn Straub with his trophy haul. Photo credit Scott Fisher.
Ageless Glenn Straub won his second MVP award of the spring season after scoring four goals including an incredibleback shot just inside the goal post. Straub said he is thoroughly enjoying the Grand Champions season and it shows in his playing.
“I just hit balls, golf balls, tennis balls, polo balls,” Straub said. “I can’t ride worth a damn but I can go ahead and hit a ball. All people can play this game. Bouncing on top of a horse is not that hard. To be truthful about it, it’s just about hitting a ball whether it’s in the air or on the ground. You just have to concentrate.
“It took a team to win this game,” said Straub, a late bloomer in polo, who has been playing for 16 years.
“I didn’t ride a horse until I was 50,” Straub said. “After that it just took three days a week of riding and hitting that ball.”
Straub also said Grand Champions’ complimentary massages in the players’ tent after each game has helped his stamina and conditioning.
“Getting the lactic acid out of your muscles, I can bounce back and play tomorrow, where before I started doing this I couldn’t,” Straub said. “At first I was skeptical because I am this big, tough guy from West Virginia. I thought getting a massage was for babies but it took 20 years off my life. I can be a young person again.”
Tommy Biddle and Carlucho Arellano each added two goals and Chapman anchored the defense.
A special treat was awards presenter Bruce Steinberg, 12, of Boca Raton, named honorary tournament chairman.
|Audi’s Lucas Lalor, Mike Azzaro, awards presenter Bruce Steinberg, Grant Ganzi and Marc Ganzi in their best We Are The Champions pose. Photo by Scott Fisher
Steinberg, a blood cancer survivor, spent the day with 5-goaler Brandon Phillips to help raise awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It was Steinberg’s wish to spend the day with a polo player. The two spent the day together in the barn, at the game, riding and at the awards ceremony.
The spring tournament circuit, featuring teams rated from 10 to 14 goals, was the fifth of the spring season at Grand Champions.
The 2013 season has been Grand Champions most competitive with four different champions emerging: ELG/Psycho Bunny (Palm City Open), Power Horse (Polo Gear Invitational), Audi (USPA Spring Challenge and Eastern Challenge) and Pony Express (USPA Sun Cup).
Only one spring circuit tournament remains at Grand Champions with the May 24-27 Memorial by Piaget and juniors tournament, hosted by the Polo Training Foundation, USPA and Grand Champions, will be held on Memorial Day Monday.
GRAND CHAMPIONS SPRING SCHEDULE
May 24-27: The Memorial by Piaget
GRAND CHAMPIONS POLO CLUB
WHERE: On the corner of South Shore Boulevard and Lake Worth Road, Wellington.
INFORMATION: There are great field side views for tournament action at the home base of pro teams Audi and Piaget. Everyone is welcome to watch polo in a relaxed atmosphere during the spring and fall tournament season and other special events including the International Cup in November, Buzz Welker Memorial Junior Tournament in March, Women’s Championship Tournament and Gay Polo League International Tournament, both in April.