On Saturday, June 4 and Sunday June 5, the Central Texas Polo Association and Texas Military Polo Club in Poteet, Texas, hosted the national Allied Services Cup at the “Best Little Grass Arena in Texas.” Intended to celebrate and honor USPA members who have served in the military, the tournament required all players to have either served in the military of any country or be a military family member.
Four teams entered the second annual installation of the 2- to 5-goal tournament, with players from four local clubs, ATX Polo Club (Manor, Texas), Two Wishes Polo Club (Lockhart, Texas), Texas Military Polo Club and San Antonio Polo Club (San Antonio, Texas), participating as well as incoming players from the Dallas and Houston, Texas, and Arizona areas. Ultimately, despite fierce competition on all fronts, Patton Legacy Sports led by hometown hero Karl Hilberg captured the title in a riveting 15-11 win.
San Antonio’s Jack Crea taps the ball ahead of Patton Legacy Sports’ Ariel Mancebo.
On Saturday, Patton Legacy Sports (Lauren Sterr, Karl Hilberg, Ariel Mancebo) and San Antonio (Gal Shweiki, Trey Crea, Jack Crea) kicked off the tournament to vie for a spot in Sunday’s final. Patton Legacy Sports quickly asserted their dominance and held on to the lead the entire game to triumph 15-11 over San Antonio. Immediately following, the two 5-goal teams, Phipps Polo (Rob Phipps, James Glew, Chris Jones) and Polo InterActive (Jose Velez, Javier Insua, Nadir Khan), met in the second semifinal. Polo InterActive’s Khan opened the game with a powerful two-point goal that set the pace for his team’s offensive strategy which ultimately ended in favor of Polo InterActive, 18-11.
Phipps Polo’s Chris Jones reaches for the hook on Polo InterActive’s Javier Insua.
Reflecting on his team’s success, Mancebo shared the strategy he and his teammates developed, saying, “Our strategy was communication and discipline. That was going to be our main goal as a team.” Hilberg also discussed their strategy specific to the finals, adding, “we were playing a team with two 3-goal players [Javier Insua and Nadir Khan] who are both very good arena players, we wanted to ensure we marked both Javier and Nadir all the time. Javier is a very smart arena player and we wanted to force him to run and play to Ariel’s strengths. We also wanted to mark Nadir, as he likes to control the ball and has a very strong stick.”
Sunday’s featured championship match, commemoratively held on the anniversary of D-Day, found Patton Legacy Sports clashing against Polo InterActive, with Patton Legacy Sports beginning with a one goal handicap advantage at the onset of the game. Hilberg, Sterr and Mancebo united forces early on, each contributing at least one goal in the first chukker. Goals from Khan and Insua kept Polo InterActive in the mix to end the chukker trailing by only two goals, 4-2.
Patton Legacy Sports’ Ariel Mancebo on a breakaway.
Patton Legacy Sports’ aggressive play in the second resulted in two Penalty 1 automatic goals in favor of Polo InterActive which equalized the score. Two tactful goals from Hilberg and a goal off the mallet of Mancebo were traded with two goals from Khan to end the half with Patton Legacy Sports clinging to a one-goal advantage, 7-6.
Refreshed, Polo InterActive entered the second half dialed in. An eager and energized duo, Khan and Insua both made the most of every play to end the third chukker tied 9-all. But unwilling to surrender, Patton Legacy Sports exploded into the final chukker. Hilberg opened the scoring, converting another Penalty 3 for his team while Mancebo made quick work winning a throw-in to run the ball straight to goal. Insua led a valiant comeback effort for Polo InterActive, scoring three times in just a few minutes, but Patton Legacy Sports’ reinvigorated offensive presence gave them control over the rest of the game. As the clock ticked towards the final horn, Mancebo nailed a final two-point shot to solidify the triumphant 15-11 win for Patton Legacy Sports.
Patton Legacy Sports’ Karl Hilberg, riding Sgt Reckless, USMC Best Playing Pony Mariposa, battles for possession with Polo InterActive’s Javier Insua.
“We really meshed well, as we had three players that communicated well and worked well together. It was amazing as we had never even practiced together,” Hilberg explained of his team’s innate ability to understand one another. He continued, “It was really due to the skills Ariel brought as the team captain. [He] brought the best out in both Lauren and I. All of [us] obviously played well, but Lauren was superb and I think her play ensured our final victory.” Sterr also chimed in, saying, “Ariel is a great captain, I love the leadership and direction he provides on the field [and] Karl’s calm demeanor and positive attitude makes him a joy to play with.”
Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Hitchcock Jr., Army Air Corps Most Valuable Player Ariel Mancebo.
For all the players on Patton Legacy Sports, this win felt particularly special. Hilberg, a retired U.S. Navy Officer, shared what this win meant to him, saying, “I served as the USPA Armed Forces Committee Chair for five years and this was one of the last accomplishments that the USPA Armed Forces Committee did during my tenure. The idea for this tournament was to complement other USPA Circuit and National events and include all USPA players that served in military or are family members, not just the U.S. military. I think we met that goal this year with players that had served (myself, Rob Phipps, Trey Crea), players that are serving (Chris Jones) as well as a host of players whose families served in the military of Argentina, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Even our professional umpire Juan Carlos Gonzalez had a military connection! So winning this tournament as a retired U.S. Navy Officer meant a lot to me, as it brings the ties between the military and polo closer to home, but also shows how much the USPA and USPA Armed Forces Committee have done to advance military polo.”
Patton Legacy Sports’ Karl Hilberg makes a run to the goal.
Polo InterActive’s Velez received the Colonel Gordon Johnson, USA Sportsmanship Award and Mancebo was awarded the Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Hitchcock Jr., Army Air Corps Most Valuable Player Award for his impressive offensive performance. “I feel very lucky that I had a chance to compete with Horsegate horses and have them supporting me, to travel here with these ponies and play them this weekend… it really was fun, but I’m really thankful to Horsegate,” explained Mancebo of how it felt to win MVP honors.
Colonel Gordon Johnson, USA Sportsmanship Award Recipient Jose Velez, presented by Karl Hilberg.
Sgt Reckless, USMC Best Playing Pony was awarded to Mariposa, an eighteen year-old Argentine paint mare played and owned by Hilberg. Hilberg described her, saying, “Mariposa is an amazing horse and very consistent. She plays the same all the time – very level headed, strong, handy, great heart and able to make all the plays. She knows much more about polo than I do and [she] makes me a much better player.” He continued, “I was just happy to have won the tournament and then to be told that Mariposa who I doubled in the final had been selected as BPP was literally the icing on the cake!”
Sgt Reckless, USMC Best Playing Pony Mariposa. Played by Karl Hilberg and owned by Karl and Julie Hilberg.
Thoroughbred Incentive Program Best Playing Pony honors were presented to Serious Fun, a twelve-year-old chestnut off-track Thoroughbred played by James Glew and owned by Hilberg.
The Central Texas Polo Association extended a special thank you to the USPA, USPA Umpires, LLC, USPA Armed Forces Committee, Texas Military Polo Club, Julie Hilberg, Debbie and David Murrell and all others that contributed to such a successful event on and off the field.
Even professional umpire Juan Carlos Gonzalez, shown here shaking hands with Legacy Sports’ Ariel Mancebo, had a military connection.
Mancebo offered one final note of gratitude, sharing, “It really was an honor to be [a] part of this tournament and play with these players and families and get to share a fun game like polo. I’m very proud that we made it happen.”
All photos courtesy of ©David Murrell.