Madsen, Larson and Lindenwood University win sixth straight ACUI College Nationals

No surprises here.
It’s no surprise that over the past six years, the oldest continuously-run pool tournament in the country, dating back to 1937 – The American College Union International’s Collegiate Pocket Billiards Championship - has been dominated by the only school in the country with a full-scale billiards athletic program.
It’s also not a surprise that in her first year with this program at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, April Larson went undefeated through a field of 12 to win the 2019 Women’s title, along with the event’s Sportsmanship award. The 80th Women’s and 82nd Men’s Collegiate Championship was hosted by the University of Illinois at its Champaign campus on the last weekend in May. No surprise, either, that last year’s male champion from Lindenwood, Andreas Madsen, originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, successfully defended his title this year, going undefeated through a field of 28.
And, just a step outside the realm of professional relevance, it’s not too much of a surprise that Larson and Madsen have, in a manner of speaking, found each other.
Ladies first. Not only did Larson win the title and the Sportsmanship award, but she defeated last year’s champion, Taylor Hanson, twice, to do it. They’re both from Minnesota and have a long history of competing against each other. Hanson entered the Lindenwood University program, a year ahead of Larson. Now, they spend most of the year on the same university pool team, which went 13-2 on the college year season. The university program’s dominance extends well beyond the sixth straight time that they’ve captured both the men’s and women’s titles, which, by the way, included an unprecedented four straight titles for Briana Miller (2014-2017).
According to Larson, her switch from high school and professional competition, to the rigors of a college education and college sports, has been a matter of focus.
“Focusing on school and improving my pool game,” she said. “Combining those things so you don’t slack off on the school work, and show up for practice. It’s about balancing those things. Finding time to do them both.”
[photo id=51129|align=right]Larson, of course, is used to playing against much larger (not to mention higher skilled) fields of competitors, but with Lindenwood University as the only school to offer a structured athletic program around pool, it was yet another example of ‘no surprise’; no surprise that there were only 12 women competing.
“We had nine qualify this year,” said the program director, Mark Wilson. “It’s the largest group we’ve ever taken and it was the largest group in attendance at this year’s event.”
“Last year,” he added of the women’s championship, “there were only five in the field.”
A preliminary round of eight players, yielded four winners, who advanced to compete against four women who’d been awarded a bye. Larson shut out her first two opponents, China Concepion and Taylor Hammonds, which put her into a winners’ side semifinal against YuShi Hou. Defending women’s champion, Taylor Hanson shut out her first two opponents, as well – Adamaris Andrade and Madison Bond – to face Ava Schieferstein in the other winners’ side semifinal.
Larson and Hanson advanced to their first match, battling for the hot seat. Larson had sent Hou to the loss side 7-3, as Hanson was busy sending Schieferstein over 7-1. Larson claimed the hot seat 7-4 and waited for Hanson to get back from the semifinals.
On the loss side, Schieferstein picked up Hammonds, who’d defeated Cierra Staton, double hill and Amanda Adams 7-2. Hou drew Bond, who’d eliminated Jenne Harasin and Concepcion, both 7-2. Bond shut out Hou and in the quarterfinals, faced Schieferstein, who’d defeated Hammonds 7-1. Schieferstein ended Bond’s bid 7-5 in those quarterfinals, before she was shut out by Hanson in the semifinals.
The college format dictated a true double elimination final, requiring Hanson to defeat Larson twice to successfully defend her title. She came as close as you could get without winning it. She and Larson fought to double hill before Larson claimed her first, though likely not her last, college title.
Madsen and Vithani battle twice for Men’s title
Andreas Madsen was cruising through his first few matches in the Men’s tournament. He arrived at a winners’ side semifinal having given up only four racks over three matches and 25 games. He opened his bid to defend the college title with a 7-1 victory over Bradley Degener, shut out Anthony Brown and gave up three to Abdulaziz Altamimi, which set him up to face Taren Stewart in one winners’ side semifinal.
Rahul Vithani, in the meantime, gave up 10 racks over three rounds of play and 31 games. He got by Wade Darr 7-2, Aun Lakhani 7-3 and Woda Ni 7-5 to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal match against Robert Patrick.
Madsen continued to roll, advancing to the hot seat match with a 7-1 victory over Stewart. Vithani and Patrick locked up in a double hill fight that eventually did send Patrick to the loss side and Vithani on to faced Madsen. Vithani came within a game of chalking up as many racks against Madsen as all of his previous opponents combined. Madsen, though, claimed the hot seat 7-4 and waited for Vithani to get back.
Patrick and Stewart moved on over to the loss side. Patrick picked up Alatamimi, who, following his defeat at the hands of Madsen had downed Sarmanya Bhiwaniwaia 7-2 and Dakota Knudson 7-1. Stewart drew Anthony Brown, who was on a four-match, loss-side streak that had included wins over Zishan Cai 7-3 and Woda Ni 7-4.
Patrick advanced to the quarterfinals 7-1 over Altamimi. Brown and Stewart battled to double hill before Brown finished it, extending his loss-side streak to five. Patrick ended that streak in the quarterfinals 7-1, only to have his own two-match, loss-side streak come to an end 7-5 in the semifinals against Vithani.
The wait apparently had no effect on Madsen. Vithani had to win twice to take the title away from him, but failed to chalk up a second rack, let alone second match. Madsen won it 7-1 to successfully defend the ACUI collegiate men’s title.
He’s back home in Denmark, now, but will be back in the early part of August to continue his education at Lindenwood. He’s uncertain at this point, whether he’ll be pursuing a pool career full-time.
“It’s a good question,” he said. “I’m going to finish college and then, maybe take a year off. I’d like to have a job that would allow me to travel.”
Until such time as other universities find a rationale and ultimately, the funds to replicate the Lindenwood University athletic pool program, students from Lindenwood will likely continue to dominate the annual ACUI Collegiate Tournament. According to director Wilson, he receives a lot of inquiries about his program and its success, but they’re from the wrong people; students, not schools.
“University inquiries (about the program) are rare,” he said. “We’re starting to get a hint at progress toward more programs, but (the university administrators) don’t see the value.”
For the most part, Wilson’s athletes compete locally against established leagues and for the most part, don’t have to over-exert themselves to come out on top.
“We’ll rarely play our top 6 players,” noted Wilson.
April Larson will be back at the tables for the WPBA’s Signature Event on the weekend of August 8-11 and be back at Lindenwood for her second year, shortly thereafter. She has every intention of maintaining the 4.0 grade average she established in her first year, on her way to a degree in finance. Madsen, too, after a trip home to Copenhagen will be back in early August to resume his quest for another 4.0 grade average year in pursuit of degree in International Relations.
The pair could be a threat at almost any Scotch Doubles Tournament in the nation, and are likely, individually, to be making more and more progress in their game. They’re likely to be a dual sight to see for some time to come.