The reconfigured Las Monjitas team we’ve been watching in Palermo was created after last year’s Argentine Open with a clear goal: reaching the echelon of Ellerstina and La Dolfina. And so far, so good. The orange machine outlasted Ellerstina on Sunday, winning 18-16 and earning a ticket to this Saturday’s final against La Dolfina.
Sunday’s win came in a twist that was not part of the original plan. After breaking away from Alegria shortly after the 2017 final in Palermo, Sapo Caset and Hilario Ulloa invited Julian de Lusarreta to join their new team with Facundo Sola. But during their first outing together, the Tortugas Open, things just weren’t gelling as expected. That’s when Las Monjitas made what turned out to be a momentous decision. They gave de Lusarreta’s jersey to Santiago Toccalino, who last year played for La Albertina Abu Dhabi.
It’s always a gamble to change the line-up, especially during the Triple Crown, but this risk paid off. In Toccalino, Las Monjitas found a prototypical #4 player who manages the back end of the game with strong positioning and sends long passes into space, which quickly turns around play. Putting Toccalino in that role has allowed not only him to thrive, averaging 1.8 goals per game, but also boosted the team as a whole. Caset, Ulloa and Sola have been freed up to attack relentlessly, knowing that the steady presence of Toccalino is protecting against the counter-attack.
That manifested in Hurlingham with Las Monjitas’ death march over La Canada Angiocor-DRF (20-6) and their takedowns of Cria Yatay and La Albertina. It continued Sunday in Palermo in the highly anticipated match-up against Ellerstina, when Las Monjitas secured a spot in a final for the first time this season.
Toccalino’s dynamic offensive and defensive performance helped push them over the top. Making three goals and setting up three others, he made crucial defensive plays that ultimately preserved Las Monjitas’ lead over Ellerstina. In two pivotal plays, Toccalino saved the ball just inches from the goal line. The first came on a backhand to prevent a Nico Pieres goal and maintained an 11-11 tie. But Toccalino wasn’t finished there. With Las Monjitas leading 16-13 going into the final chukker, an incredible block by Toccalino on a Facundo Pieres shot saved a goal and preserved a lead that Las Monjitas refused to surrender.
Bolstered by Toccalino, the team’s 10-goalers, Caset and Ulloa, carried the day. That came as no surprise. Caset is the leading scorer in the Triple Crown with 75 goals; Adolfo Cambiaso is a distant second with 66. Displaying incredible efficiency under ultra-tense circumstances, Caset finished Sunday’s game 5-for-6 from the penalty line and 5-for-7 from the field, scoring on a spree of runs, shots from distance and neck shots under pressure. Along with Caset, Ulloa played one of his best games to date, relentlessly pressuring Ellerstina, executing numerous ride-offs and steals to disrupt the Ellerstina offense. Ulloa made four goals of his own while starting many of Las Monjitas’ attacks.
Sola was also integral to the victory, stretching the field and receiving numerous passes to extend Las Monjitas’ possession. With the pressure at a maximum after Ellerstina pulled within one goal in the final chukker, Sola received a Toccalino pass in the final minutes, ran it through the posts and secured the historic upset.
Photography: Helen Cruden