Great Goose
Great Goose Creek Earns Silver Cup.
By Gwen Rizzo

Maureen Brennan’s Goose Creek team rose to the top of an eight-team roster to take the USPA Silver Cup at the 302 Polo Club in Aiken, South Carolina. Goose Creek bested Winfield/Camo in the final, which was played October 14.

 

Barrington, 2-1
Barb Uskup A
Guille Aguero 7
Julio Arellano 8
Antonio Galvan 5
20

Brigadoon, 1-2
Christine Cato A
Julian Daniels 6
Jeff Hall 8
Tiger Kneece 6
20

Dahlwood, 2-1
David Wigdahl 3
Alan Martinez 5
Francisco Lanusse 6
Gaston Lisioli 6
20

Upatoi Green, 1-2
John Flournoy 1
Ruben Coscia 6
Hector Galindo 8
Eddy Martinez 5
20

Bracket B Bendabout, 0-3
Gillian Johnston 1
Wesley Uys 5
Miguel Astrada 10
Boone Stribling 4
20

Goose Creek, 3-0
Maureen Brennan A
Martin Zegers 6
Adam Snow 9
Jose “Cote” Zegers 4
19

Skeeterville, 1-2
Will Johnston 2
Michel Dorignac 7
Owen Rinehart 7
Stevie Orthwein 4
20

Winfield/Camo, 2-1
Tom Uskup 2
Francisco Bilbao 6
Tommy Biddle 7
Willie Hartnett 4
19

Goose Creek was led by hometown favorite Adam Snow, who, with Owen Rinehart, helped revive high-goal polo in Aiken; and Chilean brothers Martin and Cote Zegers. Brennan played out front. For the Zegerses, though they’ve played together in Chile and even England, it was their first high-goal tournament in the United States that they’ve played together. “I really enjoy playing with [Cote] because we know each other so well, it makes it much easier,” said Martin Zegers. “Even though we could have taken a much more experienced 5-goal player, I knew he was going to suit the team perfectly.” Snow helped strengthen Cote’s string by loaning him some horses. All the team members agreed it was a good mix of players and talents.

Winfield/Camo was powered by Tommy Biddle, who grew up in Aiken, and Francisco Bilbao. Tournament organizer Tom Uskup played out front, and Willie Hartnett covered the back door.

This is the first time the tournament has been played in Aiken after years of this historic tournament being hosted in Houston, Texas. The Houston fall weather has not always been agreeable, and though the 2006 Silver Cup was scheduled for October last year the tournament was continually postponed because of heavy rain and eventually played months later, on March 25 in Florida.

The mild Aiken fall weather proved to be a plus and attracted the largest field of teams in recent years. The newly formed North American Polo League embraced the tournament, adding it as an official tournament of the league. “Polo has a storied tradition in Aiken, having showcased the finest tournaments, teams and players over the years,” said NAPL sales and marketing director Kevin Carlon. “As the NAPL begins its course of partnering with established high-goal tournaments, there seems no better site than Aiken, where over 100 of today’s current players have established roots.”

The NAPL’s participation spurred league member teams Skeeterville and Bendabout to trek in from Wyoming to compete in the tournament. John Goodman’s defendingchampion Isla Carroll team, also an NAPL member team, was not able to make the tournament. The other teams were largely made up of Aiken residents.

Bob Daniel’s Pony Express team, originally slated to play, dropped out when its 10-goal anchor Matias Magrini was suspended for the month of October by the USPA after striking his horse with a mallet in a previous match. Winfield/Camo took Pony Express’s spot in Bracket B, assembled days before the first match was set to begin. Biddle, coming off a win in the Aiken Gold Cup, pulled his horses’ shoes the Tuesday before the Silver Cup was set to start. “Wednesday night Tom Uskup called me and said Pony Express had pulled out, [he and a few guys] were putting together another team and would I like to play?” says Biddle. “I said sure, so Thursday morning the shoes got put back on, I rode all the horses single Thursday afternoon, and we had our first game Friday afternoon.” Fortunately, thanks to Biddle’s groom, Fernando, the horses were in great shape; and Biddle’s daughter, Lauren, jumped in to help at all the games.

With a sore back Uskup shared the No. 1 spot with Rick Hartnett, who played the first game, and Hugh Worsham, who played the last playoff game. Uskup played the second playoff, the semifinal and the final.

Interestingly enough, half the teams had female patrons. When asked why the number of female patrons seems to be increasing Snow responded: “... I’m glad they are. I guess it’s for the same reason we all like playing highgoal polo—it’s fun!”

The teams were divided into two brackets, with each team playing each of the other teams in the bracket. The winner of each bracket played off in a semifinal against the runner-up of the opposite bracket.

Brennan said Goose Creek’s first game against Bendabout was the toughest. The first game was the most difficult because it was the “first game with Adam, Martin, Cote and me playing together; we were playing against one of the best 10-goalers, Miguel Astrada; marking Gillian [Johnston] was a challenge because she is so well-mounted; and we overcomplicated our plan so we had to simplify and [focus on] one play at a time in the second half,” said Brennan. “I learned some good tips from playing against Gillian that day.” Cote Zegers said of the game, “We came out of the first half losing like 7-3, and then we had a good second half. It was the first time for the four of us playing together, and Bendabout was a great team.”

Fortunately the team reorganized in time and ended up winning the match. Martin Zegers said: “Playing with Adam, besides being so much fun, is like a never-stoplearning experience. He is extremely smart and realizes things faster than anybody. If we are losing, he talks a little in between chukkers and everything mysteriously goes better. He is so cool to tell you when you make [a mistake], telling you what to do instead with his usual calmness, never shouting madly like most players his level. He puts special care in strengthening your confidence.”

After the playoff games Dahlwood had finished at the top of Bracket A with a 2-1 record. They squared off against Bracket B runner-up Winfield/Camo, who also finished 2-1. The teams were tied at 2 after the first chukker, but Winfield/Camo jumped ahead 5- 3 after two. The team maintained its two-goal lead through the third, but Dahlwood came back after the half to tie the score at 7 all. The teams battled for position in the fifth, but Dahlwood took the upper hand, leading 10-9. Winfield fought back in the sixth, tying the score before edging ahead to take the 12- 11 win. With Uskup’s team in the final, the Barrington team of his wife, Barb, had its work cut out for it in the next game.

While 12 goals won it for Winfield/Camo, in the other semifinal 12 goals weren’t quite enough. Goose Creek took the top position with an impressive 3-0 record against Bracket A runner-up Barrington with a 2-1 record. Goose Creek controlled the game from the first throw-in and in seven minutes had flown ahead 5-1. Barrington switched to defense, slowing Goose Creek down, but it still managed to outscore Barrington 2-1 in the second and 4-1 in the third, ending the half ahead 11-3. Barrington outscored Goose Creek 3-2 in the next two periods and 3-1 in the last, but the damage was done, and Goose Creek, ahead 16-12, advanced to the final against Winfield/Camo. Had Goose Creek lost, Uskup would have been facing his wife, Barb’s, team for the final, something he wasn’t looking forward to. “I know all the players we hired for her team and I was in on team meetings. I know they would have assigned Barb to mark me just for their enjoyment! Barb is well-mounted and tough on defense, so I know my day would have been difficult ... plus announcer Charlie Herrick would have had a field day picking on the two of us!”

The final was set to be played a few days later at Uskup’s Meadow Hill field. With plenty of people in town and lots of social functions, it was an action-packed weekend. On game day, spectator tents lined the field for the big event. An Atlantic Broadband VIP tent sponsored by the Aiken Polo Festival treated polo fans to a sumptuous variety of delicacies prepared by the Deft Chef. The tent was decorated in a Caribbean Island theme, thanks to Nandina and Cote Designs.

The final pitted the only 19-goal teams, Goose Creek and Winfield/Camo, in a battle for the best. The other six teams were rated 20 goals. Camo’s only loss of the tournament came at the hands of Goose Creek, but both teams had already qualified for the semifinal before the match was played. “We went into the game not very focused and trying to conserve our horses, therefore they whipped our butts,” Biddle said. Goose Creek took a different approach. “Our intention that day was to stay sharp for the semifinal,” said Brennan. “Going into the final we couldn’t underestimate any one of them as they were four players making a balanced team.” Both teams intended on playing good, classic, open polo and winning the throw-ins. Biddle said: “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the team that wins the majority of the throw-ins wins games because they have more possession of the ball.”

Goose Creek’s strategy was to prevent big passes from becoming breakaways. “We did not take them lightly. They were surprise finalists for a lot of people,” said Snow. Even Uskup admits, “I never thought we would make it past the first round.” Snow continued, “We felt it was important for Maureen to cover Tom Uskup closely on their knock-ins to prevent Tommy’s ‘boom booms’ sending him on breakaways.”

Once the ball was in play, Bilbao put Winfield/Camo on the board with the first goal of the afternoon. Minutes later, Goose Creek responded with an easy Penalty 2 conversion from Cote Zegers. In the second chukker, it was heavy hitter 7-goal Biddle who put one in for Winfield/Camo, followed by another from teammate Uskup.

Brennan said: “Our knock-ins are designed to keep moving the ball forward to the next player and not rely on one person to do the whole job. Somehow we got complicated and the other team was winning the throw-ins. They were very physical, so we rushed ourselves.”

Martin Zegers sandwiched Penalty 2 conversions around a goal from Camo’s Willie Hartnett to end the chukker with Goose Creek trailing by one. Goose Creek leveled the playing field in the third with a pair of goals from Martin Zegers, after Hartnett had scored for Camo. The teams were tied at 5 at the half, and the crowd was clearly enjoying the close game.

Biddle said: “In our earlier game against Goose Creek, they scored six or seven goals straight from the throw-ins, mostly from Adam, so I made it my main focus to mark Adam hard in the throw-ins in the final. That strategy worked well, and I believe they only scored once from the throw-in.”

“We started the game very disorganized and by the third chukker we improved and tied the game,” said Martin Zegers. A friend who acted as a team coach talked to the team at the half. “We were reminded ... that we were a good team and had to get back to simplifying,” said Brennan. “Adam basically let Martin and Cote know they should play how they know, be themselves and do what they do best. We found the rhythm we are comfortable with, and it just started getting better each play.”

In the fourth, Biddle scored another, but 9-goal Snow answered with a field goal for Goose Creek. Martin Zegers knocked in the team’s fourth Penalty 2, but Biddle responded with a goal of his own. “Late in the fourth we were tied and going to goal looking like we would go up by one, but they turned the ball around and went the distance and scored. Our team felt we had been fouled ... but the umpires didn’t agree with us and awarded a technical as well, which Goose Creek scored on to go up by two in the last minute of the fourth.” Zegers tallied the goals to put Goose Creek ahead 9-7 at the end of the fourth. Biddle continued, “This rattled us so much that in the first two minutes of the fifth Goose Creek scored two more goals, so we went down by four in about a three-minute span.”

Snow attributed his team’s strong fourth chukker to his mare Hale Bopp, who he said “makes it easy to slow down and nurse them in ... and maybe an attitude that we didn’t need to rush to score goals.” Martin Zegers agreed: “Adam’s horses were amazing in the fourth—Adam on Hale Bopp had all the control and Cote [on a horse of Adam’s] had all the speed. ... I got lucky with the penalties from 60 yards. It was our best chukker and the turning point of the game.”

Cote Zegers found the uprights twice in the fifth, while Camo was held scoreless, to increase Goose Creek’s lead to four going into the final period. “We tried hard to come back, but we just dug ourselves a real big hole,” said Biddle. Biddle converted a 60-yard penalty mid-chukker, which ended up as the lone goal in the sixth. With Camo unable to cut the deficit, Goose Creek took home the Silver.

After the winning players received Silver trophies, the team anxiously waited to hear who was named most valuable player. Goose Creek’s Martin Zegers took the honors at the professional level, while Tom Uskup took it for the amateurs. Uskup’s pretty gray mare, Crystal, was named best playing ponyamateur; while Adam Snow’s sleek black mare Hale Bopp took BPP-professional, one of several BPP honors in her career. The NAPL presented awards for the best string of the tournament at both the amateur and professional level. Uskup’s string won it at the amateur level, while Snow’s string was honored for the professionals. “Adam Snow, who will join the ranks of the NAPL team Skeeterville in Florida, had a tremendous Silver Cup tournament while earning the best string of horses award,” said the North American Polo League’s Carlon.

Long after the game ended, the party continued in the VIP tent to celebrate a welldeserved Goose Creek victory. This is the first Silver Cup victory for the Goose Creek team, with the exception of Snow, who last won it in 2001. Martin Zegers said: “Winning the Silver Cup was extremely satisfying especially because it was the first big tournament we won with Maureen. We were very close in the Gold Cup and a 16-goal last year, but we were always missing that last hit.”

Brennan said: “I am thrilled to feel like a part of history. The Silver Cup ... is absolutely beautiful and reads like a history book.” Snow was equally satisfied and enjoyed having such a prestigious tournament in Aiken. “A national 20-goal in Aiken is like a dream come true. It brings in [players] who otherwise wouldn’t be here. It is a thrill ...” Biddle said: “All the polo in Aiken is unbelievable, especially when I look back when I began playing in Aiken in the early ’80s with four and a half fields and local players picking up mallets for the first time. Now to see over 40 fields and so many good players is just amazing.”

Event sponsors included Mercedes-Benz of Augusta. Plans are already underway for next year’s Silver Cup tournament, and the NAPL will again be involved. Carlon says, “Creating a relationship with [302 Polo] was in fact creating a relationship with the entire polo community of Aiken ...” 302 Polo has been awarded the event through 2009.

 

 
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