Maine team wins debut New England Women’s Pool Alliance Battle of the Borders

Team Maine

It almost didn’t happen and finished (more or less) on a $500 shot at a 9-ball that determined who went home with the runner-up money.

The event was the $500-added Battle of the Borders, held under the auspices of the newly-launched New England Women’s Pool Alliance and hosted by Buster’s Billiards in Sommersworth, NH. It ran from 11 a.m. to “a little before midnight” on Saturday. March 20, and featured three teams of six women, representing Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Employing a round robin format that set up three tournament charts (ME v. NH, ME v. MA & MA v. NH), the 18 women played continuously, filling in appropriate scores on the three round robin brackets more or less simultaneously. The state of Maine, represented by Kassie Lam, Amanda Soucy, Becca Ellis, Jane Imm, Jozy Vienneau and Lisa Hill, went home with this first New England Women’s Pool Alliance title, narrowly defeating the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Stacey Tonkin, Catherine Fiorilla, Samantha Barrett, Michelle Raymond, Christine Sceppa and Kimberly Storey). The battle for the title was not determined until late on Saturday night, while 2nd place (to MA) was not decided until all but the second-to-last match had been played. New Hampshire, represented by Emily Cady, Dawn Luz, Amanda Laverriere, Crystal Heath, Erica Testa and Rachelle Rainey, finished in third place.

First, though, the miracle of the event itself, originally scheduled to happen in Maine and only between two teams (ME & NH). That idea was scrapped when a “falling out” between the original tournament director, the host location and the players led to the cancellation of the whole idea. 

“The women involved really wanted the event to happen,” said Katie Fiorilla, who competed on the Massachusetts team, after helping to promote the event, before and after. “So, on their own, they found a new host location, and invited teams from Massachusetts and Rhode Island to join them. With only one week’s notice, Rhode Island was unable to put together a team, and Massachusetts (still operating under restrictive policies related to COVID) barely managed to get one together.”

“I found it so admirable,” she added, “that these women didn’t sit around waiting for someone to hold an event for them, they went out and not only found a new host location, but also got them to add money to the prize fund.”

At the early stages of this, the women who wanted so much for the event to happen had very little (to no) experience with tournaments and were operating on the idea that they’d ‘wing it’ on the day of the event. In stepped Stacey Tonkin, another Massachusetts player, who works with Inside Pool, was also planning to participate and who’d had some experience running round robin tournaments. In fact, she and Fiorilla (who “dislikes playing in chaotically-run events”) had run a WPBA qualifying tour – the New England Women’s Classic 9-Ball Series – back in the day. 

Among other things, as needed, Tonkin ran the players’ meeting and ended up being on-call to watch ‘hits.’ Fiorilla worked on promoting the event, as Chris Freeman worked on the stream which appeared on Buster’s Billiards Facebook page and Inside Pool.

“We brought whatever skills we had collectively and put it together,” said Tonkin. “Everyone did a lot to make the whole thing happen.”

It was, in fact, Tonkin, who, utilizing a hands-on skill she brought to the literal table, was responsible for the $500 9-ball that decided 2nd place in favor of her Massachusetts’ team. Once the Maine team had clinched its $900 1st place finish, there were only two matches left to be played, between Maine and Massachusetts, and then, Maine and New Hampshire. At that time with Maine ahead by two, Massachusetts was ahead of New Hampshire by a single point 35-34 (the races, to 3, awarded a single point to the winning team). The best that New Hampshire could hope for at that juncture was a tie for second place with Massachusetts, but only if, first, Maine defeated Massachusetts and then, New Hampshire defeated Maine. New Hampshire didn’t make it beyond the first prerequisite. The match between Maine (Lisa Hill) and Massachusetts (Tonkin) went double hill and after a long safety battle waged around the 9-ball, Tonkin sunk the 9-ball that awarded her team the 2nd place, $500 prize.

“We cheered for that $500, 9-ball shot,” said Fiorilla, noting that, out of the running, New Hampshire lost its subsequent and final-match-of-the-event to Maine. “The final scores were Maine 38, Massachusetts 36 and New Hampshire 34.”

Fiorilla offered, as well, one more piece of evidence that the New Hampshire team had been more or less ‘snake bit.’ In a match being streamed live between Dawn Luz (NH) and Jane Imm (ME), with the match score knotted at 2-2, Imm found herself staring at what she assumed was a ‘slam dunk’ 1-9 combination. The 1-ball made contact with the 9-ball, which proceeded to rattle in the pocket and just hang there. The miss was such that it appeared as if a subsequent run, spearheaded by the hanging 9-ball, would have given Luz the game and match (which might have eventually changed the circumstances of the final two matches, as well). Imm, in fact, began to walk away from the table, though before she got very far and as onlookers continued to be stunned by the near-miss, the 9-ball dropped into the pocket. A later review of the stream measured the time it took the ball to drop at 4.58 seconds; an eternity in a situation with all eyes focused on the ball.

“You have to look closely at the stream to see the 9-ball very slightly continuing to rock back and forth before falling,” said Fiorilla, who identified the circumstances as ‘bad luck’ for Luz, because, as she put it, “that Diamond table has tight pockets and normally, if you don’t pocket the ball cleanly, it rattles and doesn’t drop.”

“We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries (about a next event),” Fiorilla added, “so Stacey and I decided that since there appears to be a demand for these types of events, we’d continue running them. We didn’t want to create a formal new tour. We wanted to do periodic events (and) as a result, we created the New England Women’s Pool Alliance.”

They have already begun planning for an event they expect to schedule sometime in late April or early May. They are also planning a big fundraiser in June for a well-known Boston area charity, generally associated with the Boston Red Sox – The Jimmy Fund, named after former Red Sox star, Jimmy Piersall.

Event organizers, like, though not limited to, Katie Fiorilla and Stacey Tonkin thanked the ownership and staff at Buster’s Billiards for their hospitality and willingness to host, support and add (with Chris Freeman) $500 to the event on such short notice, as well as the $10 gift certificate for the room that one of the owners, Steve Flemming, gave to every participating player. The event was sponsored by Inside Pool and the Billiard Channel. They acknowledged the $50 gift donated by McDermott, given to the first player with a break and run, Jozy Vienneau. They added thanks to Joe Lynch and Clint Koozie for their help running the event, as well as Chris Freeman and Kerry McAuliffe for their live stream commentary. And appropriately, they all thanked each other for a job collectively well done.

(Editor’s Note: We’re planning on a more comprehensive story about this new New England Women’s Pool Alliance and potentially, either its second event, or possibly, specific plans for its second event and the creation of the organization and its plans going forward. We considered this follow-up for the April issue of our monthly on-line magazine, Billiards Buzz, but discovered that we’d already filled that edition, which will post in a little over a week from now. By the time late April and the Billiards Buzz May deadline rolls around, the New England Women’s Pool Alliance will either have hosted a second event or be very close to mounting their second. Stay tuned to these pages for further information as it becomes available to us.)