If someone is looking for a great comeback story, Cipriano Echezarreta is in the midst of writing one right now.
Echezarreta ’19 (San Saba, Texas) came to Culver Academies and immediately started on the varsity polo team as a fourth-classman. He continued through his third-class year and was playing in United States Polo Association tournaments during the summer, preparing to return for his third-class year.
But he got knocked down by “a double whammy” just before he came back in August 2017. He was badly injured in a polo playing accident. An opposing player cut him off and the two horses collided. Echezarreta was thrown from his horse. He broke his nose, the socket around his right eye, and was stepped on by a horse. Then a sudden family health emergency arose and that required him to stay close to home for the rest of the year.
He transferred back to a local school, healed, and started playing in surrounding USPA tournaments in the spring.
Under the USPA system, Echezarreta accumulated a high enough rating to qualify for the All-Star Award, which gave him the chance to play in the National Youth Polo Tournament Series over Labor Day weekend. The tournament brings together four-person teams from the four zones of the United States. Being from Texas, Echezarreta was in Zone 2, which takes in most of the central states.
But qualifying doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a spot on the team. Players are then graded on their horsemanship, sportsmanship, playing ability, current handicap, and team ability. When he did get the call from the USPA, he was more than a little excited.
“I’ve played my whole life,” he said, “and to be selected was a really big honor.”
It is big when only 16 players are selected from the 300 who qualified for Columbine, Colo., tournament. Echezarreta said the central region all-stars may have had an advantage. He had already played with two of his three teammates in other tournaments during the summer, so they were somewhat familiar with each other. And all four players were from Texas.
Knowing his teammates, though, was offset by his lack of familiarity with the horses. While other players brought horses from home, Echezarreta had to find rides for the matches. Fortunately, the person he worked with was very accommodating.
“Knowing the horses just gives you so much more confidence,” he explained. “That first horse I had, I just didn’t feel comfortable on, so I asked if I could switch horses. Fortunately, he was very generous and helped me.”
Echezarreta and his central region teammates won the tournament, defeating the eastern region all-stars, 6-4.5, in the first round and squeezing past the western region, 6-5.5, in the championship. The scores were based on the number of goals each team scored and the team’s collective rating, he explained. That is how teams finished with half-points.
“They were really tough games,” he said. “It’s a big deal to just play in it, and then to win it – I take a lot of pride in that.”
Now Cipriano Echezarreta is back and preparing for his final season at Culver. And he is anxious to add another chapter to his comeback story.