Entering the final of the National Outdoor Commander-in-Chief Cup on Sunday, March 28, as the only undefeated team, Tito’s Handmade Vodka (Maddie Grant, James Uihlein, Alan Martinez, Joe Wayne Barry) demonstrated why they were the team to beat, converting six penalties on route to the 13-9 victory over Hillcroft (Vaughn Miller Jr., Herndon Radcliff*, Mason Wroe*, James Miller).
Tito’s Handmade Vodka’s Maddie Grant prepares for a booming shot downfield during the final against Hillcroft.
“I hope I was able to show young female players throughout the country that it’s possible to compete and be successful in mixed tournaments.” – Maddie Grant
Played on a sunny day at Sarasota Polo Club (Sarasota, Florida), Hillcroft had their sights set on a second consecutive tournament victory after capturing the National Inter-Circuit Championship but met a determined Tito’s Handmade Vodka that consistently hammered penalties in the second half, scoring seven consecutive goals to run away with the game. The first chukker started off with a strong Hillcroft team who raced out of the gate to build a 3-1 lead with goals from Wroe and Radcliff. After opening the scoring from the field, Wroe converted a Penalty 4 to keep the momentum with Hillcroft, carrying the strong play into the second chukker, where Miller contributed his first goal of the game.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka’s Joe Wayne Barry taking the ball on the nearside with Hillcroft’s Mason Wroe on defense.
Winning each of their previous three games in the tournament by at least two goals, Tito’s Handmade Vodka began to work their way back into the game, beginning with a field goal from Uihlein, followed by a Penalty 2 conversion from Martinez. Fouls changed the pace of the game before the end of the half, allowing Tito’s Handmade Vodka to level the scoreboard after Martinez made his third and fourth penalty conversions. Outscoring Hillcroft three to two in the third chukker, Tito’s Handmade Vodka entered halftime locked 6-all.
Tito Handmade Vodka’s Alan Martinez prepares for a backshot out of traffic.
Both teams rallying in the fourth chukker, Hillcroft’s Wroe and Miller started off the scoring, but Tito’s Handmade Vodka retaliated with another penalty conversion and field goal of their own to keep the game tight. “Although we struggled a bit to get a good offensive flow going in the final, we still marked our men well, drew fouls, and Alan [Martinez] was deadly from the penalty line,” Grant said. Taking the skills from a strong intercollegiate/interscholastic background, Grant ignited a second half surge for Tito’s Handmake Vodka with her first goal of the game. The tie was broken in a decisive fifth chukker where Hillcroft was held scoreless and Martinez picked up three unanswered goals to give his team their first lead of the game 11-8. In the crucial opening stages of the sixth chukker, Martinez converted his sixth penalty goal and capped off his exceptional performance with a field goal to secure the 13-9 victory for Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka’s Alan Martinez keeps his eye on the ball at speed.
Undefeated throughout the tournament, Tito’s Handmade Vodka benefitted from their strong team chemistry and shared goal. “We had such a fun, hardworking group of people!” Grant said. “We all had the same goal and connected very well from the beginning, both on and off the field, which was key. Everyone fit comfortably in their positions and if something wasn’t working we were able to communicate and make the needed changes.”
“James [Uihlein], Joe Wayne [Barry] and I played together last year so we were already familiar with each other,” Martinez added. “The biggest surprise for me was how well Maddie [Grant] played. She’s a great teammate and did everything that we asked of her and then some.”
Most Valuable Player Alan Martinez.
Scoring 10 total goals, Alan Martinez was named Most Valuable Player for his accurate penalty shooting. “Our plan was to come out strong and make Hillcroft play at the pace that we wanted, but unfortunately they started out very strong and we didn’t take the lead until the fifth chukker,” Martinez shared. “Maddie [Grant] made the play of the game to tie 8-all and then we were able to keep attacking and extend the lead to win.”
Best Playing Pony Phoenix, played during the third chukker by Alan Martinez. Pictured with Rebecca Von Schweinitz.
Best Playing Pony honors were presented to 9-year-old Phoenix, a Thoroughbred mare played by Martinez on which he scored three goals in the fifth chukker. “Phoenix was trained by Alfredo Guerreño and I purchased her three weeks ago from Louisiana,” Martinez said. “She is very easy to play and has a lot of speed. I’m still getting to know her so hopefully we keep improving as we get used to each other.”
Not only was Maddie Grant the only woman, but she was also the youngest in the tournament at 21 years old. “Nobody treated me any differently because I was the only woman and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Grant remarked. “I hope I was able to show young female players throughout the country that it’s possible to compete and be successful in mixed tournaments. I’m here because of my abilities and horses, and I just happen to be a woman. I’m just very grateful to the Tito’s Handmade Vodka team and organization for welcoming me and treating me like family.”
*Herndon Radcliff and Mason Wroe are Team USPA Alumni. 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 ©Julio Aguilar