Aiken Polo Club girls delivered a repeat National Interscholastic Championship win after battling for the title with Maryland Polo Club.
On March 27, a rematch of the previous year’s final took place at the Brookshire Polo Club arena in Brookshire, Texas.
The 2022 Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship featured defending champions Aiken Polo Club going head-to-head against Maryland Polo Club.
The former’s members include Brianna Jordan, Robyn Leitner, Reagan Leitner, and Summer Kneece. The latter, meanwhile, is composed of Jordan Peterson, Sierra Blevins, Rory Knox, Kylie Beard, and Izzy Brockett.
Maryland sought redemption from a historic final loss, where Aiken successfully unseated their bid of three consecutive titles to raise the club’s first championship trophy.
Emerging from a field of five competitive teams, Aiken dominated in their semifinal over Yale to secure a finalist position. Maryland, on the other hand, defeated Houston with 14 to 10 to earn their tenth finals appearance.
Displaying determination and urgency, Aiken got off to an early lead from Summer. Despite a push from Maryland, a six-goal run for Aiken in the final chukker sealed their championship repeat 16-10.
Following the graduation of Sophie Grant in 2021, Aiken started their search for a new addition to the close-knit team. Summer states, “I’ve been friends with Madison and Brianna and played with them a lot. I thought Brianna would be a great addition to the team, and Madison a great addition to the Open team,” she shares.
“The team chemistry was great. Brianna fit in with the twins and I so well. We are all like family now. I can’t wait to play with her more and watch us improve together,” the woman polo player adds.
With a revised team in place, Aiken was also facing the reality of losing high school seniors Reagan and Robyn after the championship final match. Playing with Summer in Aiken Youth Polo for five years, the sisters had one last bid as a unified team to stamp their legacy on interscholastic polo.
Knowing this would be their final chance to lift the trophy as teammates, Aiken came out confidently on their home string. High school junior Summer scored the first goal without hesitation. Maryland’s Kylie was quick to respond with back-to-back goals, from the field and penalty line, to give Maryland a narrow edge.
Aiken tied things up after a melee in front of the goal mouth and a Penalty 1 automatic goal. Eager to take back the lead, two more goals from Aiken doubled up the score to 4 to 2 moving into the second chukker.
Making the trip from Aiken, South Carolina to Brookshire, Texas with their home string provided the Aiken Polo Club team with a leg-up on the competition. “It was really nice having our own horses because we knew there would be at least two chukkers that we could rely on them,” Robyn says. “I think bringing them gave us an advantage because we all knew how our horses played, and how to make the most of them.”
She continues, “It took us two days to get to Houston, and in both days, we spent about eight hours on the road! Traveling together was a great bonding moment for our team, as we were able to go out for dinner and enjoy the trip together.”
Summer wasted no time in the second chukker. This time, she rode Texas A&M (College Station, Texas) ponies, who were serving as Maryland’s string for the weekend. After three consecutive goals from Summer, Maryland’s Sierra and Jordan focused on defense. They thwarted Summer long enough to allow space for two Maryland goals.
Ending the first half, Aiken’s Brianna sunk her first goal of the game, taking the ball coast-to-coast to end the chukker in favor of Aiken with 8 to 4.
Taking time to reflect on Aiken’s first half strengths, Reagan expresses her thoughts. “Maryland is very strong and talented. We knew going into it that the girls on this team were aggressive players that could ride well. We wanted to start the first chukker hot and be ready to strike hard and fast, scoring as many goals as we could,” she narrates. “We planned to play super open and control the pace of the game. [We knew] they would make their penalties, so we couldn’t foul!”
Reinvigorated after a productive halftime strategizing, Maryland came into the third chukker firing on all cylinders. Jordan started things off beautifully with the first two-pointer of the day to chip away at the four-goal deficit. Tying the game once again, Kylie followed suit by capitalizing on back-to-back penalty conversions.
Aiken sprang back into action with Robyn sinking a Penalty 2, while Brianna added her second from the field to end the chukker ahead with 10 to 8.
Prepared for the final push to the finish line, Coach Tiger Kneece gave daughter Summer and the Leitner sisters invaluable advice. “This is what you guys have worked for. You know you have it in you – now go get it done and enjoy this moment,” he relates.
Hungry to defend their title, Aiken tapped into an offensive flow, reaching another level to outscore their opponents with 6 to 2, with all Aiken players contributing.
Maryland’s Kylie started off the chukker with a penalty conversion to come within one. However, Summer knocked in the second two-pointer of the day, to start off a six-goal Aiken streak. Jordan attempted to re-energize the Maryland effort with a final field goal, but as the clock wound down, Aiken’s powerful scoring cemented the win with a decisive 16 to 10 victory.
Contributing nine of her team’s 16 total goals, Summer reflects on her team’s triumphant victory. “I feel that my whole team and I played very well through the whole game, but the last chukker was definitely our best,” she gushes. “It was the last chukker I had with Reagan and Robyn, so we went out there and gave it everything we had. Texas A&M also provided the amazing horses that we had for the fourth chukker.”
Brianna, fresh off her first National’s win and Aiken’s newest member, shares the thrill of being in the winning team. “Playing for Aiken, there is a strong bond between my teammates and within the entire program. Winning alongside Reagan, Robyn, and Summer is an unforgettable experience,” she reflects.
Rotating positions with the twins throughout the final, Brianna elaborates their strategy further. “I wanted to let the Leitner twins play more because it is their senior year and they helped build the first Aiken Youth Polo team. Our usual lineup has each of us playing three chukkers. But I wanted to give up my third chukker, since it was the Leitners’ final game in interscholastic polo,” the woman polo player points out.
Completing their final interscholastic challenge as two-time champions, both Leitners reflects on their time in the program. “Playing in the finals for my last I/I game was such an honor! I’m so thankful for this opportunity and to have played with the hard-working team who helped earn the trophy,” Reagan says.
“It was amazing to be able to finish my last interscholastic game with my sister and such amazing friends,” Robyn notes. “I think we all cried when the game ended. We huddled together and hugged it out. Winning two years in a row was really a bonus. I didn’t really think about it at first. We just took it one game at a time. Looking back, I’m so thankful for amazing teammates that encouraged and worked for one another!”
Coach Tiger is reflective of the growth and experience of his talented players. “I feel blessed to be able to coach and mentor these kids. Winning the National Championship was just an added bonus. I’ve had Summer, Reagan, and Robyn in my program for the past five years when we first started Aiken Youth Polo. To see them mature as players and more importantly young women has been amazing,” he offers.
Maryland’s Kylie also notes her appreciation sharing. “We got the opportunity of a lifetime being able to play amazing horses and hang out with people that have the passion and love for the sport that we have.,” she states. A team full of up-and-coming players, don’t be surprised if you see Maryland again next year vying for the championship.
All-Stars in the Girls’ National Interscholastic Championship included Elise Pardue (Eldorado Polo Club), Summer Kneece (Aiken Polo Club), Kylie Beard (Maryland Polo Club), and Lillian Lequerica (Houston Polo Club). The Sportsmanship Award was presented to Sierra Blevins (Maryland Polo Club), while Elise Pardue also took home the Horsemanship Award.
San Antonio Polo Club was awarded Best Playing String, and their mare Canela was also presented with Best Playing Pony honors.
In one final celebration, the Aiken girls grasped each other tight and jumped off the infamous good luck dock next to Brookshire Polo Club. Bright-eyed about her polo future, Robyn expresses her plans and dreams. “I will be playing low goal and women’s high goal in Aiken. In the future I want to enter many high-goal women’s tournaments across America. And I would love to compete one day in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship!” she exclaims.
The future for the Aiken Youth Polo program is also limitless. What with a winning reputation and strong mentorship from Coach Kneece, Aiken’s newest additions are sure to be up to the challenge. Already stacked with their newest number one fans, Robyn adds, “I will continue to cheer on and support Aiken Youth Polo and wish them the best!”