Knocking out both regional finalists from last year, the Western and Central regions remained to contest the National Youth Tournament Series (NYTS) Championship Final Cecil Smith Cup on Sunday, September 2, at Columbine Polo & Equestrian Center, LLC in Littleton, Colorado. Designed with player development in mind, NYTS was created in 2013 and is the first national outdoor tournament series for youth competitors—providing opportunities to compete with and against their peers. Trailing their opponents moving into the fourth chukker, Central pulled together as a team and gained momentum in the final minutes to ultimately pull off a narrow victory 6-5.5 and their first championship title.
Eager to close the initial deficit with Western gaining one-and-a-half goals on handicap, Central came out swinging. Vaughn Miller Jr.’s second shot on goal found its mark as the first goal of the day. Forcing his way through a pack of defenders at the goal mouth, Will Walton secured a second point, overtaking the lead by the end of the first chukker 2-1.5. As the first half progressed, the Western players switched their strategy to simple man-to-man polo, implementing tactical defensive and offensive plays. Driving towards the goal with a Central defender poised for the hook, Western’s Riley Jordan operated as a true forward, nailing the neckshot and regaining the lead to end the half 3.5-2.
“Our strategy was to simplify our polo more than we did in the semifinal so instead of turning we just hit a hard, straight back shot. It really helped because we made some breakaways and definitely got the ball moving which was key.” – Grayson Price
Both teams played their strongest chukker after halftime, firing goals immediately one after the other with renewed force and intentional attack. Picking up the ball left to him by Miller, Grayson Price opened the third with his first powerful run to goal, but was quickly matched by two back-to-back goals from the Western team. With only the handicap deficit separating the two teams headed into the final chukker, Central knew they would have to strike fast and prevent Western from doing the same.
Gaining momentum and firing repeatedly on goal in the fourth, Central forced Western to be reactive on the field. Receiving a favorable Penalty 4 opportunity, Price stepped to the line to take a shot he practiced for, hitting a powerful, game-winning shot past defenders to seal the championship 6-5.5 in favor of Central. “One piece of advice Coach told me was when you get to the line don’t think at all,” Price revealed. “He said pretend it’s practice and you are hitting the ball for fun because it helps you to be more focused, and that’s exactly what I did.
Turning the game around in the final chukker, coach Mason Wroe attributes it to his team playing four-man polo. “We had a little bit of luck at the end, but the kids held together and when it got tough they relied on each other,” Mason Wroe* said. “It’s really special to see them keep their composure and pull together as a team.”
The NYTS Championship Most Valuable Player was awarded to Central’s Vaughn Miller Jr., who scored half of the total winning goals. Eastern’s Brennan Wells was presented with the Sportsmanship Award and Malia Bryan received the Horsemanship Award. Best Playing Pony was presented to Pebeta, played by Bayne Bossom and owned by Luis Sarcco. In the consolation match, the Eastern Region coached by Tiger Kneece outscored the Florida Region coached by Jared Zenni* 5-3.5.