Mill Spring, NC – June 16, 2018 – The Gladiator Polo™ “Battle for North Carolina” saw Team Charlotte, sponsored by North Carolina Education Lottery, avenge last year’s loss to defeat Team Asheville, sponsored by Ingles Markets, 13-12, after an intense battle in the George Morris Arena at Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC).
Team Asheville was held scoreless until the second chukker and trailed by four until the fifth, but the match came down to the final second of play: Team Asheville was able to put up a trio of points to close the gap in the fifth chukker and trailed by one heading into the sixth. Collingwood was able to slam a two-point goal to keep Charlotte’s dream alive, and when the final horn sounded, the team in teal remained on top.
Team Asheville, sponsored by Ingles Markets, was comprised of Santi “The Polo Kid” Torres, Nano “The Snake” Gracida, and Patrick “Tricky” Uretz, in purple. Team Charlotte, sponsored by North Carolina Education Lottery, saw teal jerseys donned by Mariano “Nino” Obregon, Tommy “The Great White Shark” Collingwood, and Kris “Colorado” Kampsen.
Tommy “The Great White Shark” Collingwood, a newcomer to Gladiator Polo™, scored the first goal of the match as well as the two-point shot that sealed the deal for Team Charlotte, ultimately being named the night’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts. Collingwood, 25, is a two-time winner of the $100,000 World Cup and complimented his team’s chemistry as well as the venue:
“This game was crazy. Team Asheville was pretty unlucky when we took the seven-goal lead, which can sometimes come back to bite you, and it almost did,” he admitted. “In the second half, Team Asheville played unbelievable and almost took the game right out of our hands. But luckily, we got a few quick goals at the end that gave us the lead. The great thing about our team is we all get along very well, which kept it very natural despite the intensity.”
“It has been a great experience so far,” said Collingwood. “This arena is unbelievable. I personally know the Bellissimo family and [Mark] does an incredible job in Florida, and an incredible job around the country. TIEC is an amazing facility for world-class riders from every part of the sport, and my hat is off to them.”
Both Kampsen and Obregon credited Collingwood with the victory, and both acknowledged that Team Asheville didn’t go down without a fight: “It got very rough and physical, and Asheville really brought it to us with physicality in the game,” said Kampsen. “They had a bad first few chukkers, and we were lucky to capitalize on that, and that helped us hang on to that lead at the end. Tommy saved us with the two-pointer at the end – that was huge. Our plan always was to play strong defense, and allowing that to lead us into offense.”
Kampsen, a three-time winner of the U.S. Arena Polo Open Championship®, was notably effective muscle for Team Charlotte, but humbly credited his teammates for the opportunities they created, saying, “Following Nino and Tommy worked well, and just picking up whatever they left!”
“It was really intense,” added Obregon, who is coming off a recent U.S. Open Polo Championship® win. “It got kind of competitive at the end … The arena plays amazing, and it’s very open, and the crowd is great. It’s a lot of fun!”
Heading into next week’s final, Team Charlotte plans to study film and discuss strategy to overcome Team Greenville, and all players emphasized the importance of a good North Carolina crowd against the strong South Carolina opponent. “Come cheer us on in the finals, North Carolina! We’re going to need you,” concluded Obregon.
Gladiator Polo™ was inspired by Mark Bellissimo, CEO of International Equestrian Group (IEG) and Managing Partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners (TEP) and Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP), who understood that the sport of polo was in desperate need of revitalization in order to attract and broaden its traditional audience base. Combining elements of both Field Polo and Arena Polo, the concept of Gladiator Polo™ took form in Wellington, FL, during the annual high goal season in South Florida and from there, the game expanded and has garnered both a national and international following. This is the second season that Gladiator Polo™ has been played at TIEC.
The “Battle for the Carolinas” Series presented by Coca-Cola® will conclude on Saturday, June 23. Team Charlotte, sponsored by North Carolina Education Lottery, will compete against Team Greenville, sponsored by Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, for the coveted champion title.