Making a lasting impression on the 2021 fall polo season at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina, LBL (Alison Patricelli, Jack Whitman*, Alan Martinez, Trevor Niznik) entered the Association Cup Final heavy favorites. Winning the first two legs of New Bridge Polo & Country Club’s “8-goal Triple Crown” with undefeated victories, LBL turned to the Association Cup and their final challenge to cap off the season. In the cutthroat single elimination tournament, LBL relied on strong team chemistry and advanced through match play against Upatoi Green/Foxdale Equine, narrowly defeating Field One by one goal in the semifinal.
Reaching the Association Cup Final was only the first hurdle for LBL as a formidable opponent in SIG/Chukkers of Hope (Deep Singh, Malia Bryan, Matt Coppola*, Willie Hartnett) rose from the field of nine competitive teams, eliminating both Core Real Estate and Tipler Law/Cooper H&S, to secure their place in the final. Coppola would account for all but one goal for SIG/Chukkers of Hope, as a balanced LBL leaned on strong play and eight goals from Martinez to overtake their challengers and sweep the Association Cup.
“We made it halfway through the season and said to ourselves, ‘we have a chance to finish the season undefeated. We’ve just got to do it. We’ve made it this far’…When you’re winning sometimes you get overconfident, but one of our great qualities is that we’re still hungry. We want to win everything.” – Alan Martinez
Most Valuable Player LBL’s Alan Martinez prepares for a forehand shot against a defending SIG/Chukkers of Hope’s Malia Bryan.
Attempting an undefeated season comes with pressure to perform and although Martinez acknowledged the existence of pressure, he noted, “we made it halfway through the season and said to ourselves, we have a chance to finish the season undefeated. We’ve just got to do it. We’ve made it this far; we just have to sit down and focus. When you’re winning sometimes you get overconfident, but one of our great qualities is that we’re still hungry. We want to win everything.” Patricelli also expressed similar sentiments, “it was our most exciting final because we had a lot riding on it. We all wanted to do what nobody was sure we could do, win every 8-goal tournament final we entered in 2021.”
Prepared for the challenge to overcome heavyweight LBL, Coppola scored the first goal of the final for SIG/Chukkers of Hope, however a focused and collected Martinez quickly responded with three consecutive goals including one each on a Penalty 3 and Penalty 2 to give LBL an early two-goal lead. Niznik kept the momentum going for LBL in the second, scoring his first of the game, only to receive a response from Coppola with back-to-back goals. Patricelli was quick to compliment the 5-goaler’s abilities, “he [Matt Coppola] played lights out and gave us a real challenge.” Continuing to apply pressure in the third, Coppola hit the goal twice more as SIG/Chukkers of Hope’s defensive capabilities effectively prevented LBL from reaching the scoreboard to take a one-goal advantage into halftime. Regrouping at the half, Whitman provided insight into LBL’s resilience, “we knew to keep our heads down and go goal-by-goal. No need to panic because there’s a lot of polo to be played. We tried to play so that SIG/Chukkers of Hope had to [adapt] to our strategy.”
SIG/Chukkers of Hope’s Matt Coppola takes the ball to the goal.
“We didn’t put any extra pressure on ourselves because we weren’t afraid of losing, we just told ourselves we could do it.” – Alan Martinez
Determined to increase their lead, Coppola came out strong in the third sinking SIG/Chukkers of Hope’s first goal of the second half. A counterattack from Martinez and Niznik was answered once again from Coppola with an additional goal off the mallet of Hartnett on a successful safety conversion. As SIG/Chukkers of Hope held onto their one-goal lead entering the fifth chukker, Martinez hammered in an additional two goals as LBL managed to tie the game despite a late Penalty 1 goal awarded to SIG/Chukkers of Hope. Down to the wire in the final chukker, Martinez took advantage of a Penalty 2 to find the goal first for LBL and added some additional breathing room, scoring once more from the field. Relying on their team chemistry Patricelli noted, “we never give up. And we always play together as a team using everybody. I think that is what ends up propelling us forward.” Tightening their offensive game LBL successfully thwarted all offensive attempts from SIG/Chukkers of Hope in the sixth. Once again coming through with the final goal of the match, Niznik followed up Martinez as time expired to seal the win for LBL 12-9.
LBL’s Trevor Niznik takes a breakaway shot.
“We are able to adapt to the game in the moment. Sometimes our plans don’t go the way we want them to and we can change them in a chukker’s notice to adapt to what we need. The neutrality of our team is what really drives us.” – Trevor Niznik
Reflecting on their Association Cup victory, it all came down to performing under pressure as a uniformed team as stated by Martinez, “we had different strategies against different teams. We put Trevor [Niznik] to back sometimes and sometimes I played back. There wasn’t one strategy that worked for us. Somebody always stepped up, it didn’t matter [who’s turn] it was for a play.” Niznik added, “it’s an incredible feeling and it required a lot of hard work and determination. It is definitely an achievement for me, 13-0 in three very competitive 8-goal tournaments.”
Celebrating their final victory of the season with a team dinner at the clubhouse, Patricelli expressed her appreciation for her teammates and polo family, “I’m old enough to know that moments and opportunities like that don’t come around very often. You really need to be thankful for them when they occur. Most of all, I’m thankful for the people that I’ve gotten to play with, Alan [Martinez], Trevor [Niznik], Jack [Whitman] and Winston [Painter] in the spring. They’re all just such wonderful people of such good character. I cook dinner for them and it’s like we’re a family. To share this with my sons [Luke and Doug Patricelli Norrdin] this weekend was especially important. Knowing Trevor since he was basically a teenager struggling to make it as a polo professional, giving Winston [Painter] a chance to play here in Aiken by mounting him last spring. We all came together as a team and gave him horses, so he would have a chance to play better polo and develop his skills. With Jack [Whitman], Trevor [Niznik] has known him since he started swinging the mallet. He was really instrumental in bringing him onto our team this fall and giving Jack that additional experience as he continues his polo journey. It’s just such a special group.”
Niznik also shared his praise for Patricelli’s contributions to LBL on and off the field, “big thanks to Alison [Patricelli], if it wasn’t for her none of this would be possible. Her love of the game is what fuels this team. This team is a family, and we all have each other’s back both on and off the field.”
SIG/Chukkers of Hope’s Wille Hartnett leans into the bump on LBL’s Trevor Niznik.
“I’m old enough to know that moments and opportunities like that don’t come around very often. You really need to be thankful for them when they occur.” – Alison Patricelli
Accounting for nine of LBL’s twelve goals, Martinez was named Most Valuable Player. Despite an outstanding individual performance, Martinez knew his success was attributed to the larger team bond LBL shares, “we’ve played together, we’ve been successful. We’ve all been in that position where you show up to a game and you’re expected to win and then a bounce goes the wrong way. Some reason, somehow, everything worked out. We held it together. It was a team effort, we all helped and that’s what made this team so much fun. Trevor and I had days where he’s asking for an away shot, I hit a bad pass and it doesn’t go where he wants. Then all of a sudden Alison [Patricelli] was there. Sometimes you just have to hit it and hope for the best.”
Phoenix, Martinez’s nine-year-old American Thoroughbred mare was awarded consecutive Best Playing Pony blankets in the eight-goal season. Previously winning the award in the National President’s Cup, she followed up with another stellar performance, “I played her in the fifth chukker and that was our turning point. [SIG/Chukkers of Hope] were up and that’s when we clawed back.”
Alan Martinez and Trevor Niznik embrace after completing their undefeated 8-goal season at New Bridge Polo & Country Club.
Playing an action-packed schedule throughout the season presented unique challenges. Back-to-back and consecutive game days left not only the LBL teammates exhausted but the horses as well. The importance of horse maintenance became key as shared by Martinez, “We’re so very happy the way they held up through the season. They played the beginning, the middle and the end of the season.” Maintaining a healthy string throughout multiple grueling tournaments requires the assistance of many and Martinez was eager to extend his gratitude to his parents Eddy and Linda Martinez, “my dad helped me out with horses whenever he could, without the horses we can’t do anything. Our entire organization, from the grooms to the farriers, the veterinarians, everything worked in our favor.” Whitman added, “we worked so hard to keep our horses one hundred percent through the whole season. I feel we did a great job on that.”
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Phoenix, played and owned by Alan Martinez. Presented by Leilani Pacheco and pictured with Cusy and Walter Ramirez.
LBL will now enjoy a brief, well deserved break. According to Patricelli, “we’re going to the skeet shooting range and complex [to do] a bunch of skeet shooting together this week.” After their final polo family event, “Trevor [Niznik] and Alan [Martinez] will head to [Wellington], Florida to play, and Jack [Whitman] is leaving for Argentina to join up with Park Place. I’m just going to relax and play arena polo in Aiken, just for fun, and we’ll meet back up in the spring to do our [8-goal season].” Martinez is also looking forward to spring 2022, “the plan is to keep us together. We played so great, and it’s worked out so well. You got to get it while the getting’s good!”
All photos courtesy of ©Katie Roth.