Another Ganzi wins Aspen snow polo championship as women lead the way
Add another Ganzi to the Aspen snow polo record books. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Marc and Melissa, and her brother, Grant, Riley Ganzi stepped up when it mattered to captain her team to the eighth annual World Snow Polo Championship title on Sunday at Rio Grande Park in Aspen.
On the eve of her 21st birthday, Ganzi converted on a critical penalty shot in overtime to lead World Polo League to an 11-10 win over Royal Salute in the final. In her Aspen snow polo debut, she added her name to a list of champions that already included the rest of the Ganzi household.
“It was tricky to get out here before just because of prioritizing school and final exams and skiing upon arriving here,” Riley Ganzi said of finally playing in one of Aspen’s marquee winter events. “I’ve never felt discouraged playing out there with the boys. And having a mom who set that example for me from an early age who is so tough, and growing up with a brother and competitively playing against him definitely played a role.”
This year’s championship game was unique as women captained both finals teams, with Sarah Siegel-Magness leading Royal Salute into the finale. An accomplished movie producer — she co-produced the hit 2009 film, “Precious” — and a Colorado native, Siegel-Magness thought it was a win-win to have two women leading the charge on Sunday.
In fact, of the three successful penalty conversions in the overtime shootout, Riley Ganzi and Siegel-Magness were responsible for making two of them.
“I love playing with girls. It makes me so happy. She played really well. It was a super fair game and it was fun. I figured if either one of us won, we’re both winners,” Siegel-Magness said. “Penalties are one of the most important things in polo and people don’t practice them. It is rare for pros to miss those penalties. That was a really easy penalty. But again, sometimes people can’t handle the pressure. I’m lucky I practice penalties a lot.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the World Snow Polo Championship was able to go on somewhat as normal this year in Aspen, albeit with no official spectators — a handful of people still found a way to watch from the perimeter — and without the large, singular VIP party tent that is almost more of a draw than the polo itself.
The tournament, which is the brainchild of Marc and Melissa Ganzi, who founded the Aspen Valley Polo Club, began with qualifying games on Friday at the club’s headquarters in Carbondale and continued with the fifth-place game on Saturday. Also Saturday was the celebrity chukker, which included a guest appearance from “Pitch Perfect” actress Rebel Wilson, who got on horseback for a little bit.
Sunday’s action included the third-place match and the final between World Polo League and Royal Salute, an intense battle that saw WPL rally big in the third of four chukkers before the teams went to overtime tied 9-each.
“To go into a game where you expect to play cautiously and conservative and then end up winning is obviously a great feeling,” Riley Ganzi said. “It was fair and it was a good win and I liked the fact that Sarah and I both made ours. The girls carried their weight. It was exciting, though. We didn’t know who was winning this game until the very last second.”
In the overtime period, all six players were given an opportunity to make a penalty shot. Ganzi was the first to go and found net, with Siegel-Magness tying it at 1-each a few seconds later. The winning goal officially went to WPL player Hilario Figueras — the son of polo icon Nacho Figueras — as the rest of the players missed their shots.
Tournament MVP honors went to WPL’s Alejandro Novillo Astrada, an eight-goal player from Argentina, who also won a snow polo championship in 2016 with Flexjet.
The Royal Salute team also included notable polo pros in Jesse Bray and Jason Crowder. Crowder made arguably the most memorable play in Aspen snow polo history when, with 11 seconds to go in the third chukker, he and his horse crashed through the arena wall after chasing a ball into the corner. Nobody was injured, but there was about a 10-minute delay to repair the wall.
Riley Ganzi, a junior at Georgetown who plays for the university’s club polo team, became only the second woman to win the Aspen World Snow Polo Championship. The other is her mother, Melissa Ganzi, who also was part of Flexjet’s 2016 championship team. Of the now eight Aspen snow polo championships, only two of the winning teams have not had a Ganzi on the roster.
“It’s definitely nice to see girls out there on the field with me playing alongside the boys, playing just as tough, just as aggressively, wanting to win just as much,” Riley Ganzi said. “Playing against Sarah Magness is always so much fun, too. It’s great to play against another girl who is as competitive and as serious about polo as I am. It was just all around an amazing experience.”
Of note, proceeds from the tournament were used for a good cause, with the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation and the Calaway Young Cancer Center each being presented with checks for $15,000.
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