Flying High in L.A.
Club's tourney shoots the moon.

This 0-to 4-goal tournament, called the Lan Airlines Polo Championship, offered the winners as first prize Lan Airlines round-trip tickets to Buenos Aires, four day’s stay at an Argentine polo ranch, four meals and open bar, four chukkers of polo and stick and ball per day and tickets to the Argentine Open, plus all transportation.

After a two-year hiatus and a change in club management, the three partners who founded the California Polo Club, Rodney Fragodt, Ralph Rosato and Carlos Figueroa, decided to get back to tournament polo in a big way. Reinvigorating the arena polo scene, this club in Los Angeles decided that its first tournament in two years would be fun, fast and furious. How? By enlisting Lan Airlines of South America as a sponsor and offering one of the best prize packages in all of polo, especially for those who play for the fun and joy of the sport.

With polo helmets for second place and mallets and assorted other prizes for consolation, MVP and best playing pony, other than some of Polo America’s premier events this had to be one of the most valuable and sought-after prize packages.

The California Polo Club, a grass and arena club in Los Angeles led by club pro Domingo Questel, knows how to put on a tournament, and this was one of the best. With an arena considered the best in Southern California, the club was decked out with box seats, bleachers, a grass area for the families and Argentine barbecue, all overlooking the arena under a perfect Southern California sky with the Angeles National Forest as its backdrop.

With seven teams, the tournament started off with a round robin pitting L.S.S.I. against Playa Grande and J.V. Ranch. With the teams evenly matched, and because of an error in rules interpretation, the teams all came out of the first round with identical records and the committee advanced all three teams to the second round.

The head-to-head match-up between Centaur and saw Jason Crowder, Eric Dix and Steve Hyde send Centaur packing with a blowout score of 17 to 6. While Neil Newson and Chuck Stanislawski were playing at their home club and using their knowledge of the field well, they, along with Darquea, were unable to stay with the tremendous horse power and skill of GoClothing. With outstanding play by Crowder and crew, they clearly established themselves as the power in the tournament.

The second four-chukker match saw six members of the California Polo Club face off as St. George, with Alex Rabida, Ardeshir Radpour, and Manuel Questel. They handed the California Polo Club team of Leo Cosenza (also the tournament coordinator), Denny Shen and Alejandro Nordheimer a defeat, 14 to 11, before the home crowd. With barbecues, drink, good friends and food for all the players and fans, the competition on the field turned to camaraderie and good spirits on the deck after each match.

The next round featured Playa Grande, with Heather Schubert, Shelly Geiler and Jesse Neuwirth, going up against L.S.S.I., with Cary Burch, Jared Sheldon and Danika Rice and the heavily favored team of, in a round robin. The winner advanced to the final against the winner of the game between St. George and J.V. Ranch, who fielded Daniel Brown, Claudio Manfrin and Lolo Payan.

The round-robin elimination again showed that was the team to beat, with the team defeating both Playa Grande and L.S.S.I. by identical scores of 10 to 5 to remain unbeaten in its quest for the Lan Airlines Championship.

The other semifinal match of St. George vs. J.V. Ranch found J.V. Ranch victorious, led by Manfrin with eight goals and Payan with seven goals, squeaking by with a score of 15 to 13. J.V. Ranch, withstood the furious charge led by Radpour and Questel to advance to the final against the juggernaut.

In the consolation match, California Polo Club, led by Alejandro Nordheimer, defeated Centaur by the score of 13 to 12. Centaur, led by Newson and Stanislawski, let a seven-goal lead slip away in a hardfought battle with divided loyalties since Newson and Stanislawski are both members of California Polo Club and were founding members of the club. Once the horn sounded to end the match, applause and kudos were exchanged and the food and fun on the deck after the matches that were the hallmark of the club and this tournament resumed for all the players and fans.

Sunday’s matches saw L.S.S.I. taking on the California Polo Club in a consolation game that found L.S.S.I. on top by a score of 15 to10 with Burch, Sheldon and Rice meshing like clockwork in their finest overall effort of the tournament. The California Polo Club team was kept alive by strong play from both Nordheimer and Cosenza.

The second consolation match saw St. George trying to slay the Centaur team. The match saw Centaur take several leads only to have St. George roar back with skilled play by Radpour, Questel and Rabida. The outcome was a fitting finale for these two teams as they ended in a 13- 13 tie to finish out their competition against friends and fellow club members.

The long-awaited showdown for the grand prize took place Sunday afternoon beneath clear blue skies as a crowd of polo enthusiasts buzzed with anticipation. Thirty-one goals were scored as J.V. Ranch and made the championship match one for the books. Both teams played like champions. J.V. Ranch, led by Brown with four goals and Payan with eight, pushed to the limit with their smart play and strong horse power.

After four hard-fought chukkers, Crowder and, going all out and playing in their toughest match of the tournament, prevailed by the score of 16 to 15. Crowder’s play and game-high 12 goals in the championship final earned him the most-valuable-player award of the tournament.

California Polo Club and Lan Airlines have indeed helped revitalize arena polo in Los Angeles. Those of us who play the game for fun were rewarded for our loyalty by an exquisite exhibition of polo.

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