May 10, 2022 6:14 PM

2022 Regional President's Cup Champions: LBL- Alan Martinez, Trevor Niznik, Malia Bryan, Alison Patricelli.
2022 Regional President's Cup Champions: LBL - Alan Martinez, Trevor Niznik, Malia Bryan, Alison Patricelli.

Kicking off the 8-goal spring season at New Bridge Polo & Country Club in Aiken, South Carolina, the competitive Regional President’s Cup final captivated fans in a riveting Mother’s Day contest determined in the final chukker of play. Featuring two undefeated teams, Bottega (sub. Hardy Pemberton, Hope Arellano*, Adam Snow, Lucas Arellano*) and LBL (Alison Patricelli, Malia Bryan, Trevor Niznik, Alan Martinez) dominated bracket play in a field of six talented teams and utilized their offensive power to rise into the Sunday final on May 8, for their first meeting of the tournament.

Relying on their cohesive play and long-standing professional relationships, LBL came into their first final of 2022 following an incredible undefeated 8-goal fall run. Looking to keep their winning streak alive, a nine-goal performance from Alan Martinez gave LBL the offensive drive they needed to hold Bottega at bay and earn their first victory of the season to claim the Regional President’s Cup 12-10.

“I’m always supportive of having more women on the field whenever possible, so that was nice to be able to fill that role.”  – Alison Patricelli on the addition of Malia Bryan

Featuring a roster re-alignment from the fall, LBL brought in Bryan replacing Jack Whitman* to complete their revised quartet. Adjusting to the defensive style of Bryan was crucial to cultivating LBL’s chemistry, as Martinez expressed, “I played with Malia two or three years ago. I was pretty familiar with her; she’s grown as a player and her horses have improved. Jack’s a more offensive player, so we had to adapt our game. The nice thing was Trevor, Alison and I have been pretty successful lately, so we knew what to do. It was just a matter of playing a couple of games and we and we were able to see what worked and fine tune things.”

LBL team owner Patricelli elaborated, “I’m always supportive of having more women on the field whenever possible, so that was nice to be able to fill that role. She’s such a tough defensive player and she’s got big, strong horses so she could do well helping out with that third pro, whether that was Lucas or Adam. A lot of teams have three professionals in the 8-goal now, and she can really play powerful defense and help out on offense as needed. It’s been really nice to have her in that role. Last year with Jack and Winston [Painter]*, we were focusing more on someone running the ball forward. That’s not Malia’s role as much, it’s more ‘we need you to go to Lucas.’ That’s a big job, it’s nice to have a player who wants to play that kind polo.”

Bottega's Adam Snow hits a neckshot with LBL's Alan Martinez in pursuit.
Bottega's Adam Snow hits a neckshot with LBL's Trevor Niznik in pursuit.

Beyond on-field preparations, Patricelli noted Bryan’s ability to fit-in with her new polo family, “one of the traditions on our team is barbeque, bocce and beverages. I’ll have the team over to my house and they’ll play bocce, I’ll cook and we’ll all just chill. She just slipped right in and had a great time playing bocce with us this past weekend getting ready for the final.”

Continuing to hone his relationship with Niznik, Martinez spoke to the bond the two have developed competing side-by-side, “we played together all winter. We have a lot more trust in each other than we even did in the fall. We had a great fall season, and we did well in our winter season, but it wasn’t nearly as successful as Aiken. I think the fact we’ve been in bad positions or tough positions before, and we’ve been able to persevere. It’s been one of those things where we had the confidence in each other and instead of getting flustered we were able to keep focused on what we needed to do.”

Due to his spectacular successes with LBL, Niznik recently received a handicap increase, which has been rewarding for the LBL team and Martinez as a teammate, “the biggest change was Trevor going up to three-goals. Now he’s more confident knocking-in so that gives me a lot more freedom where I don’t have to stay back as much, I can help on the offensive side.”

Trevor Niznik contributed three goals in LBL's victory.
Trevor Niznik contributed three goals in LBL's victory.

Competing for the first final of the spring season was an opportunity that LBL and Martinez were prepared to make the most of, “We go into the game as if we are the underdogs regardless of what happened because we know everyone is gunning for us. We had to walk into the game with the idea of ‘we’ll if they’re going to beat us, let’s come back and fight harder to show how bad we want it.’ Sometimes it’s easy to get a little overconfident, but we fought hard. We made sure we didn’t come into this game taking anything for granted.”

Opening the scoring for Bottega, Lucas Arellano converted a Penalty 2 to give his team a one-goal lead, however Niznik and Martinez quickly seized control of the early stages of the match to combine for four unanswered LBL goals. Halting the successful offensive run for LBL, Bottega’s Hope Arellano answered from the field, but Martinez was quick to respond with his third in open play. Facing a three-goal deficit, Bottega displayed shutdown defensive skills in the third chukker. Successfully keeping LBL off the scoreboard for the first time in the contest, Bottega’s offensive efforts were on full display scoring four goals, including two penalty conversions from the mallet of Lucas Arellano to give Bottega a 6-5 advantage at halftime.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get a little overconfident, but we fought hard. We made sure we didn’t come into this game taking anything for granted.”  – Alan Martinez

Speaking to the strengths of his opponents Martinez noted, “they’re super defensive minded and well mounted. Adam does a great job of captaining and obviously, Hope, and Lucas know their roles well, and Hardy jumped in and made some really key plays for them.” Patricelli added, “we knew it would be a difficult game because they really did have four people who could move the ball and with Adam Snow’s polo IQ and the Arellano’s talent, you’re always up against the horsepower of all three of those players. Trevor, Alan and I work so well together, and we’ve played together for so long that we understand each other and know how to support each other.”

Utilizing momentum in the break, Pemberton and Snow each hit the goal for Bottega in the fourth, but the accurate duo of Martinez and Niznik combined for two more goals to keep LBL trailing closely by one. Finally breaking through with a crucial defensive stoppage of the own, LBL prevented Bottega from scoring, while Martinez made a phenomenal push to score four unanswered goals.

Accounting for nine of LBL's goals, Alan Martinez was awarded Most Valuable Player.
Accounting for nine of LBL's goals, Alan Martinez was awarded Most Valuable Player.

Reflecting on his offensive performance as a team effort Martinez expressed, “instead of hit and run, our game plan was to slow the game down and force those guys to come to me with Trevor, Alison and Malia running interference.” Martinez continued, “that was the game plan the whole time—use me as the mismatch. It worked with my teammates helping out, taking the man, doing a lot more of the dirty work where I didn’t stay back where I normally do. Trevor actually knocked-in where I normally do, so I had that position to play up front where I was more of an offensive presence, instead of sitting at the back door.”

Overcoming their halftime deficit to capture a three-goal lead, Martinez addressed the importance of collective confidence, “we had a couple of scares, but in the last two chukkers we came back. That says a lot to the testament of everyone on the team saying, ‘we’re not freaking out, were still here, we’re still playing,’ and we were able to finish the game and close it out.”

Trailing by two goals, Bottega's Lucas Arellano halted Martinez’s offensive blitz to convert his fourth penalty goal of the day. Contributing four penalty goals between Martinez and Niznik in the final two chukkers of play, a final Penalty 2 tapped in by Martinez delivered LBL the 10-12 victory.

“I’ve played in tons of tournaments all over the place with all sorts of teams, but this team—we click, it works.”  – Alan Martinez

“Bottega is a great team, and we love playing against Adam and the Arellano’s and it’s always a clean game,” expressed Patricelli. “It’s always a pleasure to have such a challenge. Clearly the game went back-and-forth and there are times that they made better plays than we did, and there were times that we made better plays than they did. You just gotta do your best. We never gave up, even when we were down, which is an unusual place for us to be. You just keep playing your game and be disciplined and know all four of us have to play a role.”

For his offensive contributions Alan Martinez was awarded Most Valuable Player. Crediting his teammates for their collaborative effort, Martinez shared the importance of sticking to the game plan. “We played these guys a couple of times in the fall and every game was super close. We decided to change things up, especially with the switch between Jack Whitman being a very offensive weapon and Malia's style being more defensive. That was our reasoning for slowing the game down and using her more to her strong suit. That was the biggest difference, just trying to slow the game down and not give up possession and control the game as much as we can instead of letting it be a wide-open game.”

Martinez continued, “It’s a complete team effort. I might have been the goal scorer of the day, but that just happened to be the role we needed. I was in the right place at the right time, and everybody did what that needed to do. We don’t really care who scores as long as we score, that’s the important thing. Now our big thing is just to keep ourselves motivated so we can keep up our success.”

LBL's Alison Patricelli carries the ball downfield ahead of the pack.
LBL team owner Alison Patricelli on the ball.

Butterfly (Dolfina Boeing x Sasha), a 6-year-old mare played by Malia Bryan was named Best Playing Pony. “Butterfly is owned and bred by Beth Skolnik,” shared Bryan, “She is out of Beth’s mare Sasha, who played high goal for several people including Owen Rinehart and Julio Arellano. She was born in Aiken at Isinya Polo Farm where I was working at the time, so I’ve known her for her entire life. Beth wanted her to get some more playing experience and allowed me to take her to Big Horn, Wyoming, last summer. She is an incredible mare equipped with all the components to make a great polo pony. She’s fast, quick and light in the mouth. I have a lot of confidence on her, so I played her in the fifth chukker knowing we needed a strong second half to gain back the lead. I will continue to play her as long as I can, this win meant a lot to me and getting Best Playing Pony was the icing on the cake!”

Niznik also reflected on the strength of their horses, “it’s a big operation and it all comes down to everyone behind the scenes. The grooms, the ferriers, without them we wouldn’t be able to do it at all.”

Best Playing Pony was awarded to Butterfly, played by Malia Bryan and owned by Beth Skolnik.
Best Playing Pony was awarded to Butterfly, played by Malia Bryan and owned by Beth Skolnik.

Raising the Regional President’s Cup in front of some very special supporters was also a highlight for Martinez and LBL, “it was definitely nice to win on Mother’s Day. My mother is my biggest supporter, she’s always there every game she can make it to. Trevor’s mom was in town and Malia’s mom was there. It was cool to have all our moms watching on Mother’s Day. It definitely made it a little sweeter.”

Looking to the future of LBL in the reminder of the spring season at Aiken and beyond, Martinez couldn’t be more grateful, “I feel our team especially is a special team. I’ve played in tons of tournaments all over the place with all sorts of teams, but this team—we click, it works. We gotta enjoy it as long as we can because soon handicaps are going to change, and we’ll have to adapt. We have to enjoy it as much as we can while it lasts. We’ve got two more tournaments to play this spring and then get ready for the fall season.”

LBL's Trevor Niznik celebrates with his mother following his first title of the season on Mother's Day.
LBL's Trevor Niznik celebrates with his mother following his first title of the season on Mother's Day.

“It’s still kind of a surreal thing, I can’t believe we’ve been keeping it going for this long,” said Niznik. “There are a lot of good teams and you have to work hard on and off the field to maintain it.”

Echoing the sentiments of Martinez, Patricelli expressed, “we’re so privileged, I know many people will never have a streak like this in all their years of playing polo. I’m just very thankful. Alan’s such a great talent and Trevor is such a worker and the heart of this team, he never gives up. It’s nice to be on the field with those two season after season. I’d like to continue to ride this wave as long as we can.”

*Hope Arellano, Lucas Arellano and Winston Painter are Active Team USPA members. Jack Whitman is a Graduating Team USPA member. 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.