Oct 24, 2022 9:04 PM
Fresh off of a win earlier this month in the Association Cup at New Bridge Polo & Country Club (Aiken, South Carolina), a decorated Skaneateles (Marty Cregg, Vaughn Miller Jr., Ignacio “Nachi” Viana, Cesar Jimenez) returned to 8-goal competition in the illustrious National President’s Cup. Taking place from Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, October 23 at New Bridge Polo & Country Club, Skaneateles navigated a field of eight competitive teams, securing their place in the final after swiftly defeating last year’s victors, LBL Polo, in the semifinals. Their strong performance on the field was matched by a formidable Cummings Insurance (Stacie Simpkins, Jesus Ontiveros, Pelon Escapite, Justin Pimsner) that remained undefeated throughout bracket play.
A game that tested accuracy and penalty precision, mistakes from Skaneateles nearly allowed Cummings Insurance to successfully mount a last chukker comeback, but in true heroic fashion, Skaneateles’ Jimenez punched in a last-minute goal to seal his team’s narrow 11-10 advantage as the final horn blared, capturing the prestigious title and prize money for his team.
The final served as a rematch of an earlier bracket game between Skaneateles and Cummings Insurance, during which Cummings Insurance escaped with a one-goal 12-11 win. Reflecting on his team’s initial loss, Viana shared, “That game was a tough one. We started losing in the first two chukkers. We tied it in the fifth, but unfortunately, they ended up winning in the last minute. Cummings Insurance is a super good team. Their captain, Pelon Escapite, is a strong player, he’s very consistent and incredibly smart inside the field. He makes everyone playing with him play their best.” Determined to create a more positive outcome this time around, Viana continued, “The strategy was simple, to go play, keep our concentration, and believe that the game was in our hands. And it worked! The team did well, Marty, Cesar and Vaughn played lights out.”
Cregg also acknowledged how the similarities between Skaneateles and Cummings Insurance guided their strategy, adding, “Cummings Insurance is a similar team to ours. They have a balanced team, including a very strong quarterback driving the team in Pelon Escapite. We knew he would be difficult to cover and his teammates are very experienced players who work well together and who can score any time they have the ball. We focused on covering our men for the entire game and being aggressive when we had the ball. Cummings Insurance has won many games on the penalty line, and we had to be both aggressive and disciplined for all six chukkers.”
With a national title on the line, Skaneateles opened the floodgates from the first throw-in, Viana generating early offensive success with two field goals. His teammates held steady on defense, shutting down all attacks from Cummings Insurance to keep them scoreless in the first chukker. Beginning the second chukker with a Penalty 2 conversion from Viana, Skaneateles created an early 3-0 lead. Finding a rhythm with his team, Escapite ignited the scoring front for Cummings Insurance, finding the goal twice to bring his team within one goal of Skaneateles heading into the third chukker.
Crediting Cummings Insurance and detailing how bracket play helped Skaneateles force a different result for their team in the final, Miller Jr. noted “Pelon Escapite is a special player who leaves everything on the field. We weren’t good enough to beat them the first time, but after winning three tough games against great players such as Alan Martinez, Hope Arellano*, and others, we evolved into a completely different team with newfound confidence. Fierce competition made us better.”
Both teams now firing on all cylinders, Miller Jr. opened the third chukker scoring his first goal of the day, followed by Escapite and Viana both successfully converting twice to capitalize on their counterparts’ mistakes. Escapite was also able to send the ball through the posts from the field once more before the half with Skaneateles clinging to a 6-5 lead.
After the break, Viana and Miller Jr. brought the firepower back into play for Skaneateles, each scoring once. Pimsner was the only one to respond for Cummings Insurance with a lone goal, keeping Skaneateles ahead 8-6. In the fifth, Escapite scored his team’s singular goal of the chukker on a converted penalty, which marked the beginning of a string of costly fouls for Skaneateles. Compensating with offensive prowess, two goals off of Viana’s mallet launched Skaneateles to their largest lead of the day moving into the final chukker 10-7.
Recognizing how detrimental fouls were at this point in the game, Viana noticed his team faltering, sharing, “We had to keep our concentration every minute because each error was costly.” Cregg added, “Cummings Insurance was very tough the entire day as we expected. We were ahead by three in the sixth chukker, and then it was tied with 40 seconds to go…. there was no time to relax. It was an adrenaline junkie’s dream!”
A strong defensive final chukker from Cummings Insurance coupled with a goal from the field and two converted penalties nearly left the game in a deadlock 10-all as time was quickly running out. But Jimenez with the ultimate herculean effort found the goal right before the final horn sounded to earn the title for Skaneateles 11-10.
Describing Jimenez’s golden goal from a players’ point of view, Cregg shared, “the last goal came within the last 30 seconds and was a broken play near our goal. Nachi was running with the ball and then both Nachi and Vaughn were defended, leaving the ball 60 yards from goal. Cesar picked up the ball looking for a lane to shoot. When he shot to goal, it luckily landed in a spot where he could pick it up and send the winning goal through from five yards out. The discipline and consistent pressure from our team earned us the win. It’s always a nervous moment when you’re going to goal, tied up and everyone is defended. It’s hard not to make a mistake. Today, Cesar finished the play for a great win!”
Igniting the offensive front for Skaneateles and scoring eight of his team’s 11 goals, Viana was awarded Most Valuable Player. Miller Jr. praised Viana’s leadership and guidance throughout the season, saying, “Being Nachi Viana’s teammate has been a blessing for me. He brings the best out in his team and makes you feel two goals above your handicap.”
Viana’s fifth chukker horse, Tucumana, was awarded Best Playing Pony honors. Very pleased with her performance, Viana shared, “Tucumana is a 10-year-old Thoroughbred mare I bought last winter in Wellington [Florida]. She played five-and-a-half minutes in the fifth chukker and she did outstanding. I think her best qualities are her mouth and how she curves in speed, she’s very comfortable to hit off of.”
Ecstatic with the team’s victory, Cregg detailed what he plans to do with the prize money. “The prize money gives an incentive for more teams to compete, and for the winners, an option to provide an extra thank you to their entire organization. It’s important to recognize the entire organization and the prize money helps accomplish that. I will use the prize money with my team and our grooms as a thank you for a great season. We will also have a proper asado to celebrate. Winning is the exclamation point on the fun of playing our sport!”
Miller Jr. shared that he will continue playing with Viana after the Aiken season and noted his appreciation for the opportunities that playing with Viana has created for him, remarking, “I plan to continue playing with Nachi in Argentina, then Wellington [Florida]. He has helped open doors for me that I didn’t think were possible.”
As far as the 5-goal MVP, this competition comes as one of Viana’s final preparations for his FIP World Polo Championship debut with Uruguay. Thrilled about the opportunity to represent his home country, Viana remarked, “We are very excited to play. We have never qualified for a World Championship so it is a big thing! Many people are flying from Uruguay to come watch the games, so that’s great. And the team has had great preparation. They played for the last two months together in Argentina at La Dolfina getting ready for the tournament. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be part of that because I was here, but the preparation was phenomenal. So now it is time to enjoy it!”
*Hope Arellano is an active 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.
Effective Date: Saturday, May 16, 2020
The suspension of USPA Tournaments and Events will be lifted for USPA Member Clubs in locales where hosting polo matches and tournaments is permitted under applicable state and local laws, executive orders and similar decrees. The USPA Member Clubs in these locales are encouraged to follow all such requirements of their state and local authorities with respect to polo operations. In addition, we also encourage all USPA Member Clubs to take the precautions recommended by the CDC. We are preparing a detailed list of best practices for USPA Member Clubs as they return to hosting USPA Tournaments and Events and plan to circulate these guidelines within the next week. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation closely and will notify you if we determine a different course of action is necessary.Read More