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Patagons remain steadfast to seize Joe Barry Memorial

After great anticipation and a two-day rain delay, the Joe Barry Memorial Final took place at International Polo Club Palm Beach (IPC), in Wellington Florida, between Beverly Polo (Bill Ballhaus, Lucas Diaz Alberdi, Jorge “Tolito” Ocampo Jr., Hilario Figueras) and Patagones (Benjamin Avendano, Joaquin Avendano, Santiago Wulff, Tomas Garcia del Rio) on a chilly but picturesque day on the Isla Carroll West field. 

Tied with 1-1 records, the two teams met for the first time in the final, following a shootout to determine who would compete for the famed title. Claiming the Ylvisaker Cup in 2020, Patagones returned with the same line-up in hopes of adding their name to the Joe Barry Memorial trophy, facing a fiery and hungry Beverly Polo seeking redemption after falling just short of victory in 2021. Led by experienced 8-goaler Garcia del Rio, Patagones commanded the first half with hit-and-run polo that allowed them to overcome two double yellow cards and an impressive performance from Beverly’s Ocampo Jr. in the second half to reclaim the trophy 11-10 in overtime.

Despite playing against each other for the first time in the tournament, both teams were extremely familiar with their opponents. “[We’ve] played over the years against Bill [Ballhaus], Tolito [Ocampo Jr.] and Hilario [Figueras] in the 6 goal, 8 goal and 12 goal, we [all] got to this level at the same time. It’s fun to play against [Beverly Polo] for sure, they’re friends but it’s tough [competition],” Wulff expressed. Garcia del Rio echoed Wulff’s sentiments, “it makes a big difference knowing each other and knowing each other’s horses as well. We knew it was going to be tough.” 

In a game marred with penalties, Beverly Polo received the first break of the match on a yellow card awarded to Patagones for dangerous use of the mallet, resulting in a Penalty 2 goal from Ocampo Jr. Responding for Patagones, Garcia del Rio followed up with his first goal from the line on a Penalty 3. Unfortunately for Joaquin Avendano, his mallet caught Ocampo Jr. once again and received his second yellow card of the game, relegating him to the penalty box for two minutes of play.

Faced with a three-on-four disadvantage, Patagones tightened their defensive strategy and were able to capitalize on Beverly Polo’s eagerness, scoring shorthanded on another Penalty 4 from Garcia del Rio. Back to even strength, Garcia del Rio continued to lead his team on the field, driving Patagones’ push down field and taking advantage of Beverly Polo’s early foul troubles to score two more consecutive goals from the penalty line. The first field goal finally occurred for Patagones’ Wulff in the third chukker, but a determined Ocampo Jr. found the posts just before the half to inject momentum into a struggling Beverly Polo, closing the half 5-2 in favor of Patagones.

Regrouping in the break, Ocampo Jr. broke through in the fourth, igniting an offensive blitz leading to four goals in the chukker and quickly turning a three-goal deficit into a tied game 6-all. Not to be deterred by the sudden rush from Beverly Polo, Garcia del Rio promptly answered to begin the fifth on his sixth goal of the day, and second from the field. Following another successful conversion for Ocampo Jr., Benjamin Avendano received his first yellow card for dangerous use of the mallet, sending Ocampo Jr. back to the line on a Penalty 2, as Beverly Polo took a one goal, 8-7 lead for the first time in the match.

Knowing the tendencies of their opponents allowed for Patagones, with the assistance of coach (and undefeated 16-goal 2021 Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club season champion) Jesse Bray* to take the early lead, but Wulff acknowledged the persistence of Beverly Polo. “Nobody is selfish on [Beverly Polo]. They work really hard. They never give up. They came back in one chukker.” On Beverly Polo’s second half scoring storm Garcia del Rio remarked, “maybe we surprised them at the beginning a bit, then they came back playing like they always do. They play solid.”

Maintaining patience and relying on their experience, a trailing Patagones quickly rebounded with back-to-back field goals from Wulff and Joaquin Avendano. A back-and-forth fifth chukker that resulted in three goals from each team ended on a breakaway from Ocampo Jr., once again tying the game 9-all.

Eager to score the winning goal, both teams shot out to a quick start in the final chukker of play, with Ocampo Jr. fighting through traffic to score first for Beverly Polo. A charging Garcia del Rio quickly answered for Patagones, however, Benjamin Avendano was flagged with his second yellow card of the game for dangerous riding, placing him in the penalty box for the remainder of the chukker. As Patagones faced their second three-on-four disadvantage, Beverly Polo were once again unable to capitalize as regulation time expired. 

Entering overtime Beverly Polo maintained their man advantage to start the chukker but Patagones were determined to hold off Beverly Polo. Creating more space on the field with an extra man it appeared Ocampo Jr. had the game won but an incredible save on the line from Wulff gave Patagones a fighting chance. A much-needed Benjamin Avendano re-entered the game and immediately provided defensive relief. Benjamin Avendano found redemption with a backshot that set up the game winning goal for Garcia del Rio, sending the ball through the posts for a spectacular 11-10 victory.

Following the heart pounding finish, a joyous Wulff reflected on his game saving play in overtime, “lucky for me and not so much for Tolito [Ocampo Jr.]! He hit an amazing shot and it was rolling in, I got there at the right moment. I couldn’t see where the ball was, I just hit it and the flagger didn’t raise the flag, so we kept going.” Joaquin Avendano added, “going into overtime, anything could happen. We’re a great team. We were down one player but that didn’t change our mindset that we could still win. We reorganized some things [and] luckily came out on top.” 

Accounting for eight of Patagones’ goals, Garcia del Rio was named Most Valuable Player, while his 14-year-old dark bay homebred gelding Tunito (Holt x Tunita) who played as spare in the third, fifth and sixth chukkers took home Best Playing Pony.

Garcia del Rio expressed his team’s strengths leading to Patagones first Joe Barry Memorial title. “We know each other very well [and] have been playing together for the same two years. The kids [Benjamin and Joaquin] and I have been playing together in Argentina for four years, we know [what] everybody can do.”

Demonstrating a strong foundation of team chemistry, a veteran Patagones team also leaned into their familial bonds. Wulff, uncle to Benjamin and Joaquin Avendano shared the experience of playing with his talented young nephews, “I’ve been playing with them since they [were] eight, or nine [and] started playing polo. [I] taught them to ride [and] I feel very proud when I see them riding and hitting the ball. We spend the whole day together at the farm in the barn working on the horses and getting better.”

Joaquin Avendano recently competed in the U.S. Junior Open Test Match at IPC and Wulff can see the talent growing in both brothers, “their personalities get stronger and stronger every year, they don’t change but they get stronger. You start trusting them more in the field. You believe in them, that’s what [polo’s] about, believing in your teammate.” Garcia del Rio also noted the growth of the Avendano brothers, “they improve year to year. When you play with young kids they grow and improve. I think [they] can take even more responsibility [on] the team.”

Also celebrating the thrilling victory was Patagones team owner Gonzalo Avendano. Last playing in the Joe Barry Memorial in 2011, Avendano shared his feelings about the win, “it means a lot. Winning with my two sons [Joaquin and Benjamin], my brother-in-law [Santiago Wulff] and a good friend in Tomas [Garcia del Rio] is an honor.”

Wulff will be playing in the 16-goal in Wellington, joining Benjamin and Joaquin Avendano, with Bray jumping into the saddle. Maintaining a healthy, strong string through a grueling season of high-goal polo is a priority for Wulff, “We’ll try to rotate horses these next two weeks, we’re going to have a lot of polo, I’m saving three or four, just so they last the whole season.” 

Beverly Polo and Patagones will be back in 18-goal action on Sunday at IPC to begin competition in the Ylvisaker Cup, where Beverly Polo will look to defend their 2021 title. Turning their attention to the Ylvisaker Cup, Garcia del Rio shared, “we always enjoy any game we play. We know we’re competitive and we’ll try and win.” Gonzalo Avendano believes his team will be prepared for a Beverly Polo rematch if necessary, “we’re going to try and win the [Ylvisaker Cup] also. It’s not easy, [Beverly Polo] is wonderful. I have to congratulate them too.”

*Jesse Bray is an Active Team USPA Member. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

Photos by David Lominska
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