Rising from a deep field of ten teams, LBL (Alison Patricelli, Jack Whitman*, Alan Martinez, Trevor Niznik) and UN-STA-BLE (Chase Butler, Hope Arellano*, Del Walton, Lucas Arellano*) met for the second time on Sunday, October 24, in the National President’s Cup Final at New Bridge Polo & Country Club (Aiken, South Carolina). Narrowly claiming the first matchup by one goal against UN-STA-BLE, an undefeated LBL set their sights on a repeat victory against a challenging opponent with many similarities in style and grit. A close game from the onset, LBL and UN-STA-BLE’s multiple lead changes in the final, including three in the second half, culminated in a last-minute push by LBL. Tied in the sixth, Niznik scored the deciding goal with only 30 seconds remaining in the nail-biting match to win 11-10 and keep LBL’s undefeated streak alive.
LBL’s Alison Patricelli on the ball. Teammate Trevor Niznik holding off UN-STA-BLE’s Del Walton.
Competing for the second leg of New Bridge Polo & Country Club’s “8-goal triple crown,” LBL came into the National President’s Cup final primed to sweep the series after winning the first tournament. An established team playing together since the beginning of 2021, Patricelli emphasized the importance of LBL’s bond. “We’ve been playing together since last spring and we’re fortunate enough to have not lost a 6- or 8-goal tournament we’ve entered in 2021,” Patricelli revealed. “We’re a team who knows each other.”
Originally playing with Winston Painter* as number one, Patricelli, Martinez, and Niznik welcomed Whitman in the spring of 2021 who stepped seamlessly onto the team. “Jack [Whitman] and Winston [Painter] are similar players – they’re both goal scorers and the number one we were looking for. When we picked Jack to play on our team we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for, because of what worked for us in the spring,” Martinez shared. “He’s had a lot of access to great polo, and it definitely shows. He’s a much stronger player than he was last year when I played with him. You can see the experience and confidence in him.”
LBL’s Trevor Niznik.
Communication and familiarity are key factors in LBL’s series of prominent victories. “Alan [Martinez] and I played together in 2020 and won the Midstates Circuit Congressional Cup at Bliss Polo Club [Levering, Michigan] with Hardscrabble and also the Bronze Trophy®,” Whitman said. “Trevor [Niznik] and I have also played in a number of 6-goal tournaments together in Aiken.” “None of us have a single thing we want to do, we’re all just happy to be successful as a team,” Martinez added. “Obviously, I’m able to play with Trevor [Niznik] and Alison [Patricelli] in other tournaments as well so the more you get to know people the easier it is to play with them. We know what each can do and we adjust accordingly to the teams we have to play against.”
“We each know what our job is in the game, we do our jobs, and we work for each other. We win as a team and we make mistakes as a team, but no matter what we put the team first before any individual player.” – Alison Patricelli
Awarded one goal on handicap, UN-STA-BLE’s Walton opened scoring to take a quick two-goal advantage. Lucas Arellano followed with a penalty conversion, as Martinez answered with a penalty goal of his own to put LBL on the board. Whitman also scored for LBL late in the first to take a one-goal deficit into the second. Hope Arellano maintained the early striking powers of UN-STA-BLE by contributing two consecutive goals, one a Penalty 2 and another from the field. Impressed by his opponents’ abilities, Martinez reflected, “I think [UN-STA-BLE] are a very well mounted team – their horsepower is incredible. They line up very well against us considering they’re only a seven-goal team and they’re playing lights out.” Taking advantage of fouls, Martinez responded with LBL’s only goal of the second chukker on a Penalty 2. Continuing to benefit from early penalty opportunities in the third, Martinez contributed one goal on a Penalty 2 and another Penalty 3 conversion in quick succession. Preventing UN-STA-BLE from scoring in the third, Niznik would add his first of the day to give LBL the 6-5 lead at halftime.
LBL’s Jack Whitman and UN-STA-BLE’s Lucas Arellano neck-and-neck along the boards in front of a packed Sunday crowd.
“When we play against UN-STA-BLE it feels like we’re up against a different version of ourselves. They understand each other, they work hard for each other, there’s no egos on either of our teams and everybody goes out and plays hard.” – Alan Martinez
Regrouping from the break, Butler and Hope Arellano established UN-STA-BLE’s resolve by scoring the only two goals from either team in the fourth and regaining a tenuous lead. Niznik answered for LBL to begin the fifth as UN-STA-BLE’s foul trouble proved costly with Martinez sinking his fifth penalty goal of the match. “We played a very classic game of polo,” Martinez said. “Everyone had their man—straight up man-to-man—we tried not to turn the ball as much, tried to hit those backshots the first time to get ourselves into position. Seeing how we are playing man-to-man, there wasn’t anyone just floating.”
Feeding from his success at the line, Martinez scored an additional two goals to extend LBL’s lead by three goals. Running out of time, UN-STA-BLE needed to play more consistent offensively in the sixth in order to pull off the upset. Walton provided UN-STA-BLE’s offensive boost, followed by back-to-back goals from Hope Arellano’s to erase the deficit and tie the game. Mirroring their first hard-fought match, LBL gritted out the final moments of the sixth chukker under immense pressure with Niznik breaking the stalemate as seconds remained on the clock to deliver his team a thrilling 11-10 victory.
LBL’s Alison Patricelli leans into the bump on UN-STA-BLE’s Chase Butler.
Whitman reflected on LBL’s strategic success throughout the National President’s Cup. “We took it one goal at a time,” Whitman said. “We are undefeated in two tournaments so far, but we remain focused on scoring one goal at a time.” “UN-STA-BLE is an excellent team and they match-up really well against us,” Patricelli shared. “We knew it would be a battle and it was in the preliminary rounds of the tournament as well. As with any game, everything comes from playing good defense and making sure we mark all their players. We had to make sure we were playing tough against each player.” Confident in their abilities, Niznik also praised LBL’s strategy. “Alison’s [Patricelli] really good at going to a man and she’s really good at coming through with the ball,” Niznik said. “Jack [Whitman] is playing really well and we can send him to a higher-rated player and he can alleviate pressure from me and Alan, which is a huge advantage.”
2021 National President’s Cup finalists UN-STA-BLE and LBL congratulate Most Valuable Player Trevor Niznik. Presented by Leilani Pacheco.
Previously winning the 2019 National President’s Cup, Martinez shared his thoughts on adding another national title to his polo resume. “It’s great especially winning a tournament with ten teams because there’s a lot of competition, good players and good horses,” Martinez said. “It’s always nice to be on the winners stage, especially when there’s that many teams vying for the trophy.”
Scoring the game winning goal, Trevor Niznik was named Most Valuable Player. “Winning means a lot of hard work has paid off,” Niznik said. He was also quick to credit his teammates for LBL’s continued achievements. “We are all willing to make sacrifices for each other. If something isn’t working we figure out how to alternate and make adaptations to make it work and we all really click that way.” It’s nice to have someone like Alison [Patricelli] who I’ve known since the Gulfstream Polo Club days when I was a kid. Now I’m playing for her as a pro and it’s surreal.”
Best Playing Pony Honors were awarded to Phoenix, a nine-year-old American Thoroughbred mare played by Martinez in the fifth chukker. Recently purchased from Alfredo Guerreno, Martinez couldn’t be happier with her success. “I tried her once and fell in love with her that day and bought her,” Martinez said. “She’s getting better and we’re understanding each other more. She’s a complete horse, very handy, easy, and she stays calm. She’s got plenty of speed and that allowed me to get around a little bit more. The fact I was able to turn quicker than anyone else allowed me to score some goals, I ended up scoring three goals on her. [In] our game, we ended up scoring a lot of goals from the penalty line, she really stepped up and played great. She gave me the opportunity and it was my job not to mess it up because she got me where I needed to go.”
Best Playing Pony, Phoenix. Played and owned by Alan Martinez, presented by Leilani Pacheco and pictured with Cusy and Walter Ramirez.
Patricelli expressed gratitude for her polo relationships both on and off the field. “It’s hard to express how lucky I feel to be a part of this team,” Patricelli said reflecting. “More importantly than all the winning, it’s great to be playing polo with all my friends. I think that’s one of the reasons we have so much success.” Whitman shared some of LBL’s popular off the field teambuilding activities. “We play a lot of video games and bocce ball together almost every day!”
For Patricelli, playing polo in Aiken is a really special experience. “It’s a really friendly group of people and high-quality polo on good fields,” Patricelli said. “It’s a nice place to play and I feel thankful to be on such a good team and participating in such a great sport.”
LBL and UN-STA-BLE will have little time to relax after their latest final appearance with both teams competing in the Association Cup at New Bridge Polo & Country Club beginning Tuesday, October 27.
*Jack Whitman, Hope Arellano, Lucas Arellano and Winston Painter are Active Team USPA members. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.
All photos courtesy of ©Katie Roth.