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Hollingsworth takes two titles for the second time at BEF Junior Nationals in Vegas

2022 Winners (Courtesy Roy Pastor – BEF)

Nine events, drawn from 22 national qualifiers across 17 states, yields 110 unique competitors

For the second year in a row, since the Billiards Education Foundation initiated a new rule allowing players to compete in more than one division of their Junior National Championships, Greenville, SC’s Landon Hollingworth has taken advantage of an opportunity to claim two separate titles at the annual event. He claimed two 2021 Junior National titles in both the 18 & Under and 16 & Under divisions and last week, though he’d aged out of eligibility for the 16 & Under division of the 2022 Junior Nationals, he won his second 18 & Under division title and added a win in the event’s 10-Ball Championships. Nine divisions drew 110 unique entrants to the 2022 Junior National Championships, which were hosted by the South Point Hotel & Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV from June 21-25.

Three of the nine events were designated as qualifiers for the World Junior 9-Ball Championships, scheduled for the week of November 14-20 at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition to the 18U Boys division event, won by Hollingsworth, the 18U Girls division, won by Skylar Hess and the 16U Boys division, won by Adrian Prasad will yield eligible entrants to the World Juniors event. The BEF will make an announcement sometime in the future regarding which players among those who participated will be eligible, taking into account finish positions in each of the qualifying events and the ability of individual players to attend.

The influence of the ongoing Junior International Championship (JIC) series of tournaments, now midway through its second year, was very evident in the results of this year’s Junior Nationals. Of the 27 medals awarded to competitors (gold, silver, bronze; three in each division), 25 of them went to active competitors in the JIC series. 

“Proud is an understatement,” wrote On the Wire Creative Media’s Ra Hanna, who organized and runs the series, in the JIC Facebook page. “We’re a family; that’s it, pure and simple. We work hard and we play hard.” 

Hollingsworth’s two Gold medals at the BEF Junior Nationals were not without their challenges. Though he’d go undefeated in the second-largest event in terms of entrants, the 18U Boys 9-Ball World Qualifier, which drew 35 entrants, he had to play one loss-side match in his 10-Ball Championship run, which drew 32.

Niko Konkel, Landon Hollingsworth and Joey Tate

None of his five opponents in his 9-Ball event run chalked up less than four racks against him and one of them, Garrett Vaughan, forced him to win the final game of a double hill struggle. He downed Niko Konkel 9-6 to claim the hot seat, before he had to face one of his regular opponents on the JIC circuit, Joey Tate, in the finals. Tate had been sent to the loss side, where he defeated Nicholas Fiore, Trent White in the quarterfinals and Konkel, who picked up the event’s Bronze medal, in the semifinals. Hollingsworth grabbed the Gold medal with a 10-7 final victory over Tate, who went home with the Silver medal. 

In the 10-Ball Championships, Hollingsworth began his run to the hot seat match by defeating his younger brother Cameron and then defeated three more opponents to reach and challenge Nathan Nunes for the hot seat. Nunes handed him his first, and as it turned out, only loss of the week 7-3 and claimed the hot seat. Hollingsworth was challenged to his second double hill match by Adrian Prasad in the semifinals and prevailed for a second chance against Nunes. In the very early morning hour or so of Saturday, June 25, he collected his second Gold medal with a 7-5 victory over Nunes in the finals of the 10-Ball event.

In the 18U Girls world qualifier, which drew 17 entrants, Skylar Hess won three on the loss side to down Kennedy Meyman in the finals. Hess had been sent to the loss side by Meyman, who’d advanced to claim the hot seat in a double hill win over Courtney Hairfield. On the loss side, Hess defeated Bethany Tate in the quarterfinals and Hairfield in the semifinals, both 7-5. She won her rematch versus Meyman 10-3 to claim the event’s Gold medal. The top four finishers in this event were among the JIC’s top-ranked competitors in its 18UG division, midway through the JIC season. The winner of the BEF 18UG event, Hess, is 4th on the JIC list, while the runner-up, Meyman, is 2nd. Precilia Kinsley, who finished in the tie for 5th/6th at this event is 3rd on the JIC list, while the 4th place finisher is currently the JIC’s top-ranked young female competitor, Bethany Tate.  

In the remaining world-qualifying event, the 16U Boys 9-Ball, which drew one entrant less than the 18U Boys event (34), the 10-Ball Championship’s Bronze medalist, Adrian Prasad came from the loss side to down Harrison Leinen in the finals. Prasad had been defeated by Leinen 9-7 in the battle for the hot seat, and then eliminated the 9-Ball event’s Bronze medalist Niko Konkel in the semifinals 7-2. Prasad completed his run with a 10-8 victory over Leinen in the finals.

The 16U Girls had, by far, the shortest field in the Junior Nationals with only 7 entrants and the above-noted Precilia Kinsley and Bethany Tate finished as winner and runner-up. Those two battled first in a winners’ side semifinal that went double hill before Tate advanced to the hot seat match against Hayleigh Marion. In her second straight double hill match, Tate defeated Marion to claim the hot seat. On the loss side, Kinsley won two matches, including a double hill win over Marion in the semifinals, before coming back to down Tate in the finals 7-2.

8-Ball Championships draw larger field (44), than 14U Girls and Boys combined (40)

Trenton White and Brent Worth

The popularity of 8-Ball was as evident at the BEF Junior Nationals as it is in the general amateur fields of competition, like various leagues and independent-venue, weekend  tournaments from coast to coast. The 44-entrant size of the field featured a lot of competitors not included in the JIC rosters of regular competitors. The JIC series, in general, features 9-ball competition, though later this year, there are plans to include a 14:1 tournament. Though they don’t play 8-ball, all three of the event’s medals went to regular JIC competitors. 

Trent White, who competes in the JIC 18U Boys division, went undefeated through the field to claim the BEF’s 18U 8-Ball Championships. White faced separate opponents in the hot seat match and finals, downing Brent Worth, double hill, in the former and Jacob Kohl 5-2 in the latter. 

Eddie Vonderau, who sits atop the current JIC ranking roster in the 13UB division, went undefeated through the BEF’s 14U Boys event, which drew 28 entrants. Like White in the 8-Ball event, Vonderau faced different opponents in the hot seat and finals. He gave up only a single rack to Jordan Witkin in the hot seat match and faced Jayce Little in the finals. Little won three on the loss side, including two double hill matches, against Grayson Vaughan and in the semifinals, Witkin, for a shot against Vonderau. Witkin chalked up four racks in the finals, but Vonderau got his 8 to claim the Gold medal.

Sofia Mast, Savannah Easton and Noelle Tate

The 12-entrant 14U Girls event was won by Savannah Easton, who went undefeated through the field, downing Sofia Mast twice; hot seat and finals. Easton had defeated the youngest of the three-member Tate clan, Noelle, in a winners’ side semifinal and in the hot seat match, drew Mast, who’d defeated her ‘storied’ arch-rival in the JIC series, Skylar Hess (winner of the 18UG world qualifier), in a winners’ side quarterfinal before defeating Jordan Helfery in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Easton grabbed the hot seat 7-5 over Mast. When Mast returned after defeating Noelle Tate a second time, 5-1, Easton defeated her a second time, 7-3 in the finals to grab the 14U Girls Gold medal. 

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Newcomer to Tour Director role, Casey Cork, organizes BEF qualifier in Winston-Salem

Casey Cork (File photo)

Tate siblings win 18U Boys and Girls events, Jas Makhani wins Coed 14 & Under

One day, 20-year-old Casey Cork, a veteran of the Junior International Championship series of events, who finished 9th in the overall standings of the 18U girls division in the JIC’s first year and has aged out of competition in all but the ProAm division this year, decided that she wanted to organize a pool tournament for juniors. Not content with the availability of junior tournaments in her Greensboro, NC area, she reached out to Sandeep (Sonny) Makhani, owner of Breaktime Billiards in Winston-Salem and got him to split the cost of such a tournament and then, reached out to the Billiards Education Foundation and got them to agree to its designation as a qualifier for the annual Junior Nationals.

Easy-peasy, right? Well, probably not.

“I had no clue what I was in for,” she said.

But she got it done and this past weekend, Saturday, April 30, Breaktime hosted a BEF qualifier in three divisions: 18 & Under Boys and Girls and a 14 & Under Coed division. It was arguably for the best that it didn’t draw as many entrants as she’d hoped for (35-40), as she discovered what it was actually all about. The 18U Boys drew 13 entrants, the 14U Coed event drew 11 (and was won by the room owner’s son, Jas Makhani) and there were only six 18U girls. Among this short field were a number of JIC veterans, like the Tate siblings, Joey and Bethany, who both went undefeated to claim the 18U Boys and the 18U Girls titles. Noelle Tate competed, as well, along with Skylar Hess, the Vaughan brothers, and Niko Konkel, to name just a few. 

Joey Tate got by Garrett Vaughn twice in the 18U Boys event; hot seat and finals. Tate gave up more than a single rack only once through the five matches that it took him to claim the title. The one who chalked up five against him was Garrett Vaughn’s brother, Grayson. Niko Konkel, who finished third played both brothers; Grayson in the quarterfinals (shutting him out) and Garrett in the semifinals, who defeated him in a double hill match. Tate downed Garrett Vaughn by the same 7-1 score in both the hot seat match and finals.

Grayson Vaughan also competed in the 14U Coed tourney, and was proceeding along nicely until he ran into the eventual winner, Jas Makhani, in a winners’ side semifinal. Makhani advanced to the hot seat match 7-5 over Vaughan and met up with Skylar Hess, who’d sent Max Moore to the loss side by the same 7-5 score. Makhani claimed the hot seat 7-1, sending Hess to the semifinals and a 5-2 win over Jayce Little, who’d previously defeated Vaughan in the quarterfinals. Hess managed one more rack against Makhani in the finals than she’d chalked up against him in their hot seat match, but Makhani claimed the title 7-2.

 Hess showed up in the finals of the 10-match 18U Girls event, too. Downed by Bethany Tate 7-3 in the opening round, Hess came back through half the field (three opponents) to challenge her in the finals. Bethany Tate (15) had downed her younger sister, Noelle (12) in a winners’ side semifinal 7-3, advancing to the hot seat against Alana Sanchez, who’d sent Taylor Perkins to the loss side 7-1. Bethany claimed the hot seat 7-4. Hess, after downing Perkins 7-4, Noelle Tate 5-3 in the quarterfinals and Sanchez, double hill, in the semifinals got a second shot against Bethany Tate. Tate won their title-claiming rematch 7-4.

“There were some bumps in the road, some conflicts,” said Cork of her first tournament-direction experience, as, she noted by example, the fact that the venue had to move some of the bar box tables toward the end of the evening to accommodate the arrival of a band, “but otherwise, it went well.”

Well enough, she went on to say, that she’s already setting her sights toward future junior tournaments and the possibility of launching a series of women’s tournaments, as well. Not everyone walks away from their first tournament-directing experience with as much enthusiasm and immediate plans for the next one. We suspect we’ll be hearing more from this young woman and her pool-tournament aspirations in the months and hopefully, years ahead. 

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Hollingsworth, Martinez and Meyman win their divisions at JIC Season 2, Stop #1

Courtney Hairfield, Kennedy Meyman and Noelle Tate

Vonderau and Mast capture 13 & Under titles

“Last year was practice,” said Ra Hanna of On The Wire Creative Media and tour director of the Junior International Championships, sponsored by Viking Cues, which began its second season last weekend (Jan. 14-16). In a snowstorm.

“Practice is over now.”

The weather had an impact that forced Hanna to cut it short. His concern for the safety of his junior competitors, as well as the family members who’d helped get them to Roanoke, VA, led to squeezing play in all five of the JIC divisions into two days, instead of three. That same weather led to flight cancellations that pinned Hanna in Roanoke until Wednesday.

“The safety of the players and their families was what was most important,” he said, noting that a cycle of soft snow and freezing temperatures had made the roads “like an ice-skating rink.”

The event, now officially known as the Junior International Championships, sponsored by Viking Cues, drew a total of just over 100 entrants, across its five divisions (with some cross-over between divisions), to Wolf’s Den in Roanoke, VA. Hanna had expected more and was convinced that in the absence of the weather, there would have been more.

Niko Konkel, Lazaro Martinez and Garrett Vaughan

Returning to compete in the JIC’s second season were the winner and runner-up of 2021’s 18 & Under Championship finals, Landon Hollingsworth and Joey Tate, who finished 1st and 2nd in Season 2/Stop #1’s 31-entrant Pro Am Division. They did not fare as well in the 18 & Under division, finishing 4th (Hollingsworth) and in the tie for 17th place (Tate).  The 18 & Under Boys division was won by Lazaro Martinez, who went undefeated, downing Niko Konkel, who’d lost to him in the hot seat match and returned from a victory over Garrett Vaughan in the semifinals, to be defeated a second time.

In the absence of 2021’s 18 and Under Girls’ Champion, Tatum Cutting (who has turned 19), the young woman she shut out in the championship finals of that division in October, Kennedy Meyman, got ‘right back on the horse,’ so to speak. Meyman lost her opening match in the 11-entrant, 2022 division opener, but rallied to win six in a row and then, down Courtney Hairfield in the finals.

The 13 & Under divisions, which drew 17 boys and 9 girls, saw the emergence of a new(er) rivalry and the renewal of an old one. Eddie Vondereau and Grayson Vaughan battled twice for the boys’ title; hot seat and finals. Vonderau downed Vaughan both times to claim that title.

Grayson Vaughan, Eddie Vonderau and D’Angelo Spain

And in the 13 & Under Girls’ division, it was storied JIC rivals, Sofia Mast and Skylar Hess, who, like Vonderau and Vaughan, battled twice for the event’s division title. After each was awarded a bye in the opening round of play, they met in what was the first match for both of them. They came within a game of double hill, but it was Hess who edged out in front to send Mast to the loss side 7-5. Mast breezed through her first three rounds on the loss side by an aggregate score of 21-4. In the quarterfinals that followed, Noelle Tate (sister to Joey) put up a fight that earned her more racks against Mast than her first three loss-side opponents, combined. Mast advanced 7-5 to the semifinals, where she defeated Savannah Easton, appearing in her first JIC event, 7-4.

“That was one of the surprises of the event,” said Hannah. “(Easton) beat out some of the top girls in that division (Franki Spain, Raygen Wilson & Skylynn Elliott) to finish third in her first event.”

So, once again, it was Mast and Hess squaring off against each other; a matchup that occurred in the quarterfinals of the 18 & Under Girls Championship last October. Mast dominated the extended race-to-9, winning it 9-2 to claim her first, and likely, not her last 2022 JIC title. 

If it ain’t broke . . .

There are differences in this second JIC season, but they’re about some minor additions and an expectation level being fostered by Hanna and the crew of folks who helped him last year and continue to do so this year. Kory and Trena Wolford, owners of Wolf’s Den, are among them.

Skylar Hess, Sofia Mast and Savannah Easton

Viking Cues has joined as a sponsor, and as such, will contribute to prizes, a scholarship to be awarded to the player who receives the tour’s Brendan Crockett Sportsmanship Award, aspects of the tour’s day-to-day operations, and when appropriate, unspecified equipment. Hanna noted that Dynaspheres “stepped up,” as did Mike Littman with Littman Lights. The tour is working with DigitalPool this year, which will feature what Hanna described as a “custom environment” with the expected brackets, updated division rankings, player profiles and live scoring.

“The players themselves are going to be doing the live scoring from their smart phones,” said Hanna. “They’ll be uploading scores to that site in real time.”

“We’re looking at a shot clock on the big tables,” he added of one other embellishment they’ll be considering bringing, literally, to the tables. “Modeling the atmosphere to that of the professionals, so that (the players) won’t be ‘deer in the headlights’ out in the world.”

“We’re also going to be sponsoring some of the players going into Pro events throughout the year,” he added. “It’ll be up to the player to decide which Pro event they might want to attend, whether it be Turning Stone, or the Super Billiards Expo. (The tour) will be off in April and we’re going to send a nice little contingent. With four of the divisions, a representative from each division would be nice.”

The plan is to provide the junior players with more than just an opportunity to compete throughout the year, but to provide them, as well, with the tools necessary to compete against increasingly difficult competition in what could well be difficult venues.

“I don’t want them complacent,” said Hanna. “I want them to know that there’s always going to be someone coming for you and that things aren’t always going to be perfect; not the balls, not the tables, not the general environment.”

“I want to go to war with this group,” he added. “The make-up of this group is the right combo to succeed; we’ve got everything – gunslingers, mercenaries, the quiet types. We’re going to make some noise this year.” 

The Junior International Championships, sponsored by Viking Cues, will hold the second stop of its second season on the weekend of Feb. 11-13. It will be hosted by Diamond Billiards in Cape Coral, FL.

Mast wins her third, while Vondereau chalks up his first in 13 & Under Girls and Boys JIC

Sofia Mast

Not only do her three wins and three runner-up finishes put her at the top of the Junior International Championships’ Girls 13 & Under division, but her two wins, one 3rd, one 4th and two 5th place finishes in the Girls 18 & Under division puts her at the head of that ‘class,’ too. Sofia Mast, 12, is carving out a slot for herself in the finale of this inaugural Junior International Championship season. Four young women have won a stop on the six Girls 13 & Under events of this first season. The other three are currently in 2nd (Skylar Hess), 3rd (Bethany Tate) and 7th place (April Gonzales) in the standings. Four young women have also won the six Girls 18 & Under division events. Mast and Tatum Cutting (#1 and #3 in the rankings) have done it twice, while Kennedy Meyman (#2) and Aryana Lynch (#13) have done it once.

At this most recent in the ongoing JIC series of events, held this past weekend (July 16-18) and hosted by the League Room in Parkersburg, WV, Mast went undefeated in the Girls 13 & Under division, which drew eight entrants. She was awarded an opening round bye and then shut out Airianna Taylor to draw April Gonzales in a winners’ side semifinal. Skylar Hess, in the meantime, followed her opening round bye with a 7-4 win over CJ Newberry to pick up Taylor Perkins in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Mast downed Gonzales 7-5 and in the hot seat, faced Hess, who’d sent Perkins to the loss side 7-1. It is rumored that as this JIC opening season approaches its climax, someone is going to come up with the idea of selling tickets to the matches between these two young women. Mast took the first of their two 7-4 and waited on Hess’ return.

On the loss side, Gonzales picked up Skylynn Elliott, who’d defeated CJ Newberry 7-3 to reach her. Perkins drew Franki Spain, who’d eliminated Airianna Taylor 7-4. Spain and Perkins battled to double hill before Spain prevailed, advancing to the quarterfinals. Gonzales joined her after downing Elliott 7-2. 

Gonzales took the quarterfinal contest 7-4 over Spain, only to be stopped by Hess in the semifinals by the same score. Mast completed her undefeated run through the Girls 13 and Under division by defeating Hess a second time, 9-6.

Special awards emerge from Boys 13 and under contests

Both of the event’s special awards came out of the Boys 13 & Under division, which drew 11 entrants. The Brendan Crockett Sportsmanship Award went to Eddie Vondereau, who won the division, while the Jeanette Lee “Black Widow” Comeback Award went to Grayson Vaughan, who finished third.

Vaughan earned his ‘comeback’ award in his opening round of play against 10-year-old Hayden Ernst, who opened up a 6-1 lead against him. Vaughan persevered and chalked up six in a row to defeat Ernst and advance to a winners’ side semifinal against Jayce Little. Vondereau, in the meantime, had defeated Max Moore 7-1 to draw D’Angelo “Jawz” Spain in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Vondereau defeated “Jawz” 7-3 and advanced to the hot seat match. Vaughan joined him after sending Little to the loss side 7-4. Vonderau claimed the hot seat 7-5 over Vaughan and would not, as it turned out, face him again.

On the loss side, Konnor McFayden, who’d lost his opening round match 7-2 to Hayden Ernst, got a bye in his opening round on the loss side and then won five in a row for the right to challenge Vondereau. McFayden shut out Lathan Elliott, survived a double hill fight against Noah Majersky, defeated both Jayce Little and “Jawz” 7-3 and finally, eliminated Grayson Vaughan 7-4 in the semifinals. Vondereau ended McFayden’s loss-side winning streak with a 9-3 victory in the finals to claim his first JIC 13 & Under title and move into the #8 slot in the division’s rankings.

On the Wire Creative Media’s Ra Hanna thanked Chris Wilson (owner of The League Room in Parkersburg, WV), Chris Reinhold (photography), the Wolfords (Kory and Treena, for their help), Mike Littman of Littman Lights, his (Hanna’s) streaming crew and Dee Adkins, for orchestrating a clinic for the girl competitors at this most recent event. Hanna once again gave a shout out to all of the families of the junior players, whose camaraderie has made these events “truly, one big traveling family.” 

The next stop on the JIC series of events, scheduled for August 27-20, will be hosted by Michael’s in Fairfield, OH. The final event for the 13 & Under Boys and Girls, scheduled for September 17-19, will be hosted by Wolf’s Den in Roanoke, VA. The finals for 18 & Under Boys and Girls will coincide with the International Open in Norfolk, VA in October.