Liu goes undefeated on 20th Anniversary celebration and season finale of NWPA Tour

Kim Jones, Jing Liu, Melissa Rushton and TD Chris Rogers

It was kind of a “hello/goodbye” situation.

On the weekend of Dec. 11-12, the North American Women’s Pool Association (NWPA) returned to the tables after a year-plus hiatus, courtesy of the pandemic. It returned with a new President – Stephanie Drakulic (née Hefner) – who, immediately upon recognizing that 2021 was actually the tour’s 20th anniversary (Sept., 2001), decided that the tour would celebrate that anniversary in style.

“I knew I wanted a kick-ass banquet with delicious food,” she wrote in a Facebook post of her thoughts when she ascended to the presidency of the tour in early 2020. “I wanted a big turnout. A HUGE celebration!”

“And then,” she added, “COVID hit and laughed at me for making plans.”

In June of this year, she detected a “shift,” as mask mandates were reduced and vaccination availability was widespread. Her desire for a 20th anniversary celebration had survived and she started making plans, which culminated in the Dec. 11-12, $550-added event that was, in effect, the only event of the year and thus, the season opener and finale, simultaneously. The event drew 33 entrants to Golden Fleece Billiards in Everett, WA. 

For the winner, it was kind of a “hello”/“I’m back” situation. Jing Liu went undefeated through the field, chalking up her first (recorded) win anywhere since she’d won the NWPA’s 5th Annual Martha Hartsell Memorial, back in April, 2015, downing Liz Cole in the finals. Half of Liu’s six opponents in the most recent event forced a single, deciding match against her, including the last one, when she and Melissa Rushton battled for the title.

Liu and Rushton advanced through the field to arrive at their winners’ side semifinal matches. Rushton, who’d just sent the aforementioned Liz Cole to the loss side, faced Nicole Donisi, while Liu squared off against the aforementioned new President of the NWPA, Stephanie Drakulic. 

Both matches for advancement to the hot seat match went double hill. Rushton played her first of two double hill matches in the event, sending Donisi to the loss side, while Liu played her second double hill match and sent Drakulic west. In their first of two, Liu claimed the hot seat 7-4 over Rushton and waited on her return.

On the loss side, Donisi picked up Suzanne Smith, who’d lost a winners’ side quarterfinal to Drakulic and then downed Tamre Rogers 6-2 and Andy Camping 6-3. Drakulic drew Cassie Francois, who’d lost her opening match to Rushton and was working on a six-match, loss-side winning streak that had recently eliminated Jo Woodward 6-4 and Kim Jones 6-3.

The potential Smith/Drakulic rematch did not happen. Smith got by Donisi 6-3, but Francois advanced one more step, downing Drakulic 6-4. Smith put an end to Francois’ loss-side trip 6-4 in the quarterfinals, only to have her own loss-side journey halted by Rushton 6-3 in the semifinals. Befitting the occasion, the “hello/goodbye” season opener and finale, along with the 20th anniversary of the tour ended with a double hill match, won by Liu to claim the title.

Drakulic and tour director Chris Rogers thanked the ownership and staff at Golden Fleece Billiards for their hospitality, as well as sponsors BCA Pool League’s Players Club Limited, Coava Coffee, OX Billiards, Robin Dreyer Billiards Instruction, Jam Up Apparel and Nicole Donisi Designs for her graphic arts work associated with an overhaul of NWPA designs for the tour’s flyers.

“Getting to compete alongside and with so many fantastic players is an honor and a privilege,” wrote President Drakulic on her Facebook page after the event. “Getting to be a part of this tour and help guide it and push it forward, is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

“I love the NWPA,” she added, “and I love being a part of an organization with so much history and dedication to growing women’s pool.”

According to Drakulic, the full schedule of NWPA events for 2022 is still a work in progress. Check back with the AZBilliards calendar where that schedule will be posted as soon as it becomes available. Questions may be directed to NWPA’s e-mail account at