It’s been a week of big wins in Palermo. Ellerstina, in their debut game, took Cria Yatay 15-5; Las Monjitas continued their winning streak (16-5 over La Canada), and La Aguada moved back into fourth in the rankings (where they have to end up to qualify for Tortugas 2019), defeating La Ensenada 18-10.
La Dolfina took La Dolfina Polo Ranch (15-11) in a game punctuated with screaming matches, mostly over foul rulings and collisions. In the second chukker Adolfo Cambiaso was driving to goal when Guille Terrera made contact, causing him to lose the ball. That was a non-call, followed later by another when Terrera swooped in and stole the ball from Cambiaso. AC ended the game furious at the umpires for rulings that could have cost La Dolfina the game and declaring that if “Terre” wasn’t his friend he’d kill him.
Those fireworks aside, no one had as much to deal with as Alejandro (“Negro”) Novillo Astrada. He had a slate of good news/bad news. La Aguada claimed their first win, decimating La Ensenada (18-10). But Negro had to play the entire game without Miguel Novillo Astrada (hurt in a practice). On top of that, Negro finished the game minus Nacho Novillo Astrada, who took a nasty fall in a defensive move against Juan Martin Zubia, breaking his right shoulder.
La Aguada had already started the Triple Crown without Eduardo Novillo Astrada, who is sitting out the season to focus on his duties as AAP president. Alfredo Bigatti stepped into Eduardo’s spot on the team, as he has done before. For the rest of this year’s Open, Alejandro Muzzio is wearing the maroon jersey in place of Miguel, and a spokesperson for LA Aguada confirmed this Saturday that Nacho is not coming back and Diego Araya will continue in his spot.
With all the pressure now on Negro, one might wonder how he’s coping. He certainly feels the weight on his shoulders, saying, “It’s my responsibility now to keep the family name well positioned.”
When Miguel was injured, Negro moved from the #1 position to #3. But he doesn’t consider the shift a big deal. “Actually #1 is not my natural position. I feel more comfortable playing #2 or 3, or as a back. For me that was much easier.”
As for playing without his brothers, Negro of course would prefer otherwise. But this isn’t the first time he has played the Open without them. The first two years he qualified for the Open, Negro played as the only Novillo Astrada on his team, and the third year he played with Chapaleufú II. The first two years he played #3, and with Chapaleufú II he played one game as #3. “So I have an idea of what it is [to play that position],” he said.
At this point in the Open, La Aguada has been left without their defensive backbone in Miguel (who played #3) and Nacho (#4). Nonetheless, Diego Araya played very well filling in for Nacho in the game against La Ensenada. From the fourth chukker on, Araya took all the penalty shots, scoring five times.
Now Negro has to be much more involved in the defense, whereas before his brothers’ injuries he had been the primary scorer. Fortunately, Muzzio has worked well with Bigatti to keep La Aguada’s offense going.
The changes in the La Aguada roster will have an effect, but we won’t know what until they play their next game December 3 against Alegria-La Irenita. In Negro’s view, “Luckily we were able to win the other day, and hopefully we are going to be able to win the next game, too. We will play our final game against La Dolfina [on December 8] the best we can.”
Photography: Helen Cruden