Early Lead Earns Iconica Joe Barry Memorial Victory Over BTA

2023 Joe Barry Memorial Champions: Iconica’s Maureen Brennan, Peke Gonzalez, Lucas Criado Jr. and Santos Merlos. Photo by David Lominska

On Sunday, Jan. 22, the Joe Barry Memorial culminated in an excellent match between undefeated Iconica (Maureen Brennan, Mariano “Peke” Gonzalez, Lucas “Luckitas” Criado Jr. and Santos Merlos) and BTA (Kelly Beal, Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Jesse Bray and Steve Krueger) at the USPA’s National Polo Center-Wellington.

A match defined by momentum, Iconica’s early synergy withstood a second half comeback from BTA, a formidable effort that included eight unanswered goals. Iconica’s tenacity ultimately helped the team capture the title for the first time with a 12-11 win. The Joe Barry Memorial also served as the first leg of the new Florida Circuit 16-Goal Super Series, guaranteeing Iconica the first spot in the championship tournament, which will take place in April.

Three combined goals from Criado and Merlos put Iconica in a great leading position in the opening chukker, with BTA’s only response coming from Viana on a successful Penalty 2. Iconica continued to dominate the first half. Three goals from Gonzalez, two from Merlos and another from Criado kept the team firmly in control, resulting in a substantial 9-3 advantage for Iconica.

Both teams re-energized after the break, and Iconica continued its forward momentum with three quick goals. Now sitting at a nine-goal deficit, BTA mustered the strength and willpower to mount an impressive comeback. Before the close of the fourth chukker, Viana scored twice, and Krueger added a tally to bring BTA back within six. Forcing an Iconica shutout in the remaining two chukkers, four goals off the mallet of Viana during the fifth chukker and a final field goal from Krueger in the sixth brought BTA within one goal of Iconica. As the final seconds ticked down, Bray made his way to goal, but time expired before he was able to send the ball through the posts, resulting in a narrow 12-11 win for Iconica.

“I’ve always wanted to win the Joe Barry — it’s one of the big ones,” Brennan said. “I’ve been playing with the sons of all the players that I’ve competed with in the past. I’ve won and played with Mariano [Gonzalez], Sebe [Merlos], Lucas [Criado] and now playing with their sons.”

For his spectacular four-goal performance in the final along with his impressive play throughout the tournament, Santos Merlos was recognized as Most Valuable Player. “It’s my first year playing as a professional here, so the first win is awesome,” he said. “It’s a great organization. Thank you to Maureen for believing in me. Peke and Luckitas were amazing teammates. With Luckitas, I’ve been playing against and with him in Argentina, and Peke is friends with my eldest brother, and I’ve known him for a long time.”

Gitano, owned and played by Jesse Bray, was awarded Best Playing Pony honors.

Already looking ahead, Iconica joins the 16 teams now competing in the Ylvisaker Cup, which serves as the second leg of the Florida Circuit 16-Goal Super-Series.

Watch the incredible comeback and exhilarating final moments in the on-demand video, featuring player interviews, now available at www.uspolo.org.