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Fisher stays atop WPBA rankings with come-from-the-loss-side win at Sledgehammer Open

Kelly Fisher, Janet Atwell and Kristina Tkach

The late Helena Thornfeldt remembered in heartfelt 1st Annual event named in her honor

She was nicknamed the Sledgehammer because of her powerful break. Whenever conversations about Helena Thornfeldt broke out among friends and competitors at the 1st Annual WPBA Cherokee Sledgehammer Open, named in her honor this past weekend (Wed., Oct. 19 – Sun., Oct. 23), more than just a few of the gathered women had cause to remember it; the loud whack of initial contact and the way the balls spread out as though desperate for space beyond the rails to dissipate the energy of it. It had taken over two years for the pool community’s widespread respect and admiration for the late Helena Thornfeldt to arrive at a gathering in her honor. The WPBA Hall of Famer died in August of 2019 and though Janet Atwell, in an attempt to organize a 2020 event, began work on it almost immediately, COVID had other ideas, that persisted.

This past weekend, Atwell’s room, Borderline Billiards in Bristol, TN had one of Thornfeldt’s favorite things, sunflowers, on prominent display. A table was set aside to hold a variety of individual and collections of photos. The trophies that were handed to the winner, Kelly Fisher and runner-up Kristina Tkach were accompanied by two actual sledgehammers, made by Robert Ingold of Team SuperShaft. Atwell is working on the creation of a permanent wall plaque at Borderline Billiards with engraving space for the event’s present and future winners, along with a pair of crossed sledgehammers. The event began on Wednesday with words from Janet Atwell and a video made by Bonnie Arnold that featured, among other things, Thornfeldt singing a karaoke version of Born to be Wild. The event officially opened with the National Anthem sung by Christina Druen.

“I think it was an emotional event for everyone,” said Atwell. “Some went through some struggles with it.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Kelly Fisher. “A very emotional event, that first night. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”

Kelly Fisher

“We all missed her really,” she added, “and we hadn’t had a chance to show that or feel that, as a family, together. I know that for myself, during that final and a during a few other close matches as well, I could just imagine Helena saying things to me. I went outside at one point to get a breath of air and Monica (Webb) said something to me that Helena would have said and I got kind of fired up there. So for me, personally, she was definitely a presence in my heart and mind.”

Among those in attendance, including Fisher, Tkach and Atwell of course, was Jeannette Lee, who had, in a 2017 interview, called Thornfeldt “the best female straight pool player in the world.” Lee joined Atwell as a member of a ProAm team (one of many) that played a social tournament on opening night, full of blatant sharking and fun. Monica Webb, who ran a restaurant business with Thornfeldt for a number of years, was there, as well. So, too, was the WPBA’s Peg Ledman, a personal friend of Thornfeldt. Not present, though there in spirit, was Allison Fisher, who was in England being awarded an MBE title (a Member of the British Empire) for her “contributions to sport,” many of those, from Britain’s point of view, earned as a snooker player there. The event also featured a strong contingent of (now) relatively well-known junior competitors like Hayleigh Marion (for whom Borderline Billiards is a home room), Sofia Mast, Skylar Hess and recipient of a great deal of attention, 12-year-old Savannah Easton.

The $10,000-added Sledgehammer Open drew a total of 80 entrants to Borderline Billiards, 32 of them drawing byes exempting them from Stage One competition. The 48 others, 16 of whom drew opening round byes in Stage One, played in a double-elimination bracket until there were eight on each side of it. Stage Two awarded byes to the top 16 in the WPBA standings, as the double-elimination bracket got underway, and . . . they were off. 

Headlining the eight competitors who advanced to Stage Two from the winners’ side of the Stage One bracket was Sofia Mast, one of the 16 who’d been awarded opening round byes in Stage One. Her first opponent was Savannah Easton, setting up an early junior marquee matchup. Mast advanced on the winners’ side 7-2, while Easton would move to the loss side, winning three by an aggregate score of 21-5 and advancing to Stage Two. Also advancing on the winners’ side of the Stage One bracket were Kathy Friend, Jaye Succo, Nathalie Chabot, Christy Norris and the Callado sisters, Eleanor and Emilyn. Along with Easton, loss-side competitors advancing to Stage Two were junior competitors Skylar Hess and Precilia Kinsley, along with Nicole Albergaria, Dawn Oldag, Kim Housman, Lisa Cossette and Casey Cork.

Kristina Tkach

The opening round of Stage Two, with Kelly Fisher (among others) idle with opening round byes. Kristina Tkach played and won her opening round against Casey Cork 8-3 and then downed Stephanie Mitchell 8-3 in a match that set her up to face Fisher. Savannah Easton opened the Stage Two part of her title bid with a successful, double-hill match versus J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour (JPNEWT) veteran Kia Burwell. Easton advanced to face another JPNEWT veteran and the #1-ranked American player in the WPBA rankings, Caroline Pao, where she (Easton), as they say, met her match; Pao winning the contest 8-5. Mast lost her opening Stage Two match to Meng-Hsia (Bean) Hung 8-2, and moved west for an eventual rematch against Easton. 

Fisher, in the second round, downed Eleanor Callado 8-3 and then, in a late match, fell to Tkach 8-6. Tkach advanced to the other winners’ side semifinal against Pao.

“She obviously had worked very hard and perfected that cut break and I just wasn’t getting my break going,” said Fisher. “She obviously played very well to beat me. I knew she was in good shape and thought “Oh, my!”

At the other end of the bracket, Margaret Fefilova, with relative ease, was working her way through the winners’ side for an eventual matchup against Jennifer Baretta in the other winners’ side semifinal. Fefilova got by Lisa Cossette 8-3 before running into what turned out to be her toughest opponent (as gauged by racks-against), Janet Atwell, who chalked up five against her. Fefilova moved on to down Ashley Rice 8-2 and record a shutout over the #3 competitor in the WPBA rankings, Brittany Bryant, which set her up against Baretta.

Fefilova got into the hot seat match with an 8-3 win over Baretta and was joined by Tkach, who’d sent Pao to the loss side 8-4. On Saturday night, Tkach claimed the hot seat 8-2 over Fefilova and would wait until Sunday afternoon to see who came back from the semifinals.

It was Kelly Fisher. But she wouldn’t play that semifinal until Sunday. In the meantime, Pao and Baretta had business to attend to on what was left of Saturday night. Baretta picked up Savannah Easton, whose improbable and impressive run among this roomful of professional female pool players was still happening as the bracket whittled down to its final six. Easton had followed her loss to Pao with a loss-side, double-hill win over Beth Fondell and then, looking to advance into the first money round (17th/24th), she had the opportunity to avenge her Stage One loss to Sofia Mast. She did so, in a match that appropriately came within a game of going double hill. Easton then eliminated Laura Smith and won a double-hill battle against Emily Duddy. She then downed Monica Webb 8-6 and Dawn Hopkins 8-3.

Larry Easton, Savannah’s father, no stranger to his daughter’s talent, turned to Atwell as he was watching this, as amazed as many of the spectators at how far his daughter had come, in a lot of ways.

“I don’t even know what to say,” he told Atwell.

“She’s got great cue ball control, thinks ahead and plays very smart for her age,” Atwell would comment later. “She’s very strategic and plays great safeties. She plays like an adult and (her career) is off to a great start.”

Pao, in the meantime, drew Fisher, who’d started what she called a “grueling Saturday,” playing five matches in a row from noon to 8:30. She played and eliminated Meng-Hsia Hung (at noon), Janet Atwell (2 p.m.), Susan Williams (4:30) and the WPBA’s #2-ranked competitor, Brittany Bryant (6:30), all 8-4. Fisher defeated Pao 8-3 (8:30), as Baretta elicited a variety of mixed emotions from all assembled by ending Savannah Easton’s run 8-1. There was a lot of spectator applause in the moment, some of it for both of them, but a lot of it for the talented junior.

“People were excited to see her play,” said Atwell, “and happy with her finish.”

In a quarterfinal battle appropriate to the circumstances, played the following morning, Fisher and Baretta went double hill before Fisher prevailed. In the semifinals, Fisher went back to the loss-side pattern she’d established and punching her ticket to the finals, defeated Fefilova 8-4. Fisher might have played six matches to be in the finals, but thanks to Tkach, it required eight, including a loss. The rematch came within a game of double hill, but not before Fisher found herself down 2-5 and later, 5-8; Tkach a rack away from the hill.

“I was spurred on by pure determination really and the will to win it,” she said of her comeback. “I told Helena, I looked at her picture and like that, ‘Come on, do this for you’ kind of thing and whether you believe in that kind of thing or not, it’s not about who or what it takes to spur you on, but doing whatever it takes.” 

“Whatever it was,” she added, “things turned around. I dug in my heels, hit a gear and took charge of the match.”

From 2-5 down, Fisher won eight of the last 11 games, including the last five in a row. Quite the gear, all things considered. Whether it was herself, Helena, or just the adrenaline of a final push to the finish line, Fisher brought it all to bear and claimed title to her close friend’s first and likely not the last memorial.

Helena Thornfeldt

The 1st Annual WPBA Cherokee Sledgehammer Open came about through the efforts of any number of people, all of whom host Janet Atwell thanked, from the players and spectators to the members of her staff. She also thanked event sponsors the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Brad Hendricks Law Firm (Little Rock, ARK), Patty and Walter Harper of Knoxville and the streaming services of DigitalPool with Upstate Al, Zach Goldsmith and a number of competitors who joined them in the booth.

Editor’s note: Helena Thornfeldt died on August 20, 2019 at the age of 52. Originally from Borlange, Sweden, she was living in Villa Rica, about 35 miles west of Atlanta, when she died. She had opened a new restaurant, Pizza Mania, 15 days before she passed. The “Sledgehammer” turned professional in 1994, was a three-time European straight pool champion and won the 2002 US Open Championship in New Mexico, downing Allison Fisher in the finals. In the year she was inducted into the WPBA Hall of Fame in 2017, she was ranked 9th among American pool players. We here at AZBilliards join with members of the ever-expanding pool community in mourning her loss and in the years to come, celebrating the life of such a vibrant, widely-admired and respected member of our community at an annual Sledgehammer Open.

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Wagner Wins Second AWBT Title This Season

Justine Bishop and Rebecca Wagner

The ladies of the Arizona Women’s Billiard Tour were back in action on stop 5 of the 2022 season at Metro Sportz Bar in Phoenix, Arizona on September 10th – 11th, and Rebecca Wagner again made the most of her long trip from Las Vegas to earn her second tour stop win of the season. 

Wagner had wins over Holly Swider and Amanda Pulley on Saturday, and that was enough to keep her on the winners side for Sunday play. Sunday matches on the winners side looked like an all-star lineup from past AWBT events. Wagner faced Susan Williams, who has won more AWBT titles than she can probably count. On the other side of the bracket, tour director (and runner-up at stop 4) Justine Bishop took on Susan Mello, who has been winning AWBT tour stops since the first season of the tour. 

Bishop did her best to send the message that this is her time to win on the tour, as she sent Mello to the left side of the board 7-1. Williams had more of a battle, but handed Wagner her first loss 7-5. 

The hot-seat match was a battle, with Bishop scoring a 7-5 win to her earn her spot in her second straight final match. 

The loss to Williams might have spurred Wagner on, as she was on a warpath on the left side of the board. Wagner scored back to back to back 7-2 wins over Pearl Ortiz, Jaye Succo and Williams to earn her place in the finals against Bishop. 

The final match was an extended 9-8 match and Wagner took complete control at the 2-2 point of the match. Bishop failed to cash in on a couple opportunities and that was all Wagner needed as she won seven straight racks for the 9-2 win and her second title of the season. 

Sunday’s second chance tournament saw Claudia Morado go undefeated with wins over Holly Swider for the hot-seat and then Samantha Shaw in the finals. 

The AWBT staff send out their thanks to all of the staff at Metro Sportz Bar as well as all of their sponsors for this season, Las Glorias Grill, Your Way Logistics, Avalon Home Performance, Goober Pet Direct, Amber Call – Realty One Group, Idle Hands Vintage, Sophia’s House Cleaning, A-Best Billiards and Friends of the AWBT. The tour will be at Bullshooters in Phoenix on October 8-9 for their next stop.

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A familiar trio of AWBT veterans get together for season opener, won by Evans-Taylor

Nina Tagley and Rae Evans

Bustamante, Miller take Balls Only, Second Chance events

It was actually back-to-back victories on the Arizona Women’s Billiard Tour (AWBT) for her, albeit separated by 14 months. In November of 2020, with all of the tour’s host locations having closed thanks to the pandemic, Rae Evans-Taylor teamed with Brian Honoway to win the tour’s traditional season finale, a Jack and Jill Scotch Doubles event, hosted by Main Street Billiards in Mesa. One year and two months later, this past weekend (Jan. 29-30), the AWBT opened a new season at Bull Shooters in Phoenix and Rae Evans-Taylor, went undefeated to win the $1,000-added, 9-ball main event that drew 40 entrants to the room.

In a pair of concurrently-run events, Joven Bustamante came from the loss side to win a $250-added, BALLS ONLY 10-Ball event that drew 30 entrants and Sara Miller went undefeated to win a $250-added Second Chance event that drew 12.

Any thoughts that things might be a little different at the end of the 14-month hiatus were dispelled as Evans-Taylor faced two tour veterans in the hot seat match and finals of the 9-ball main event. Both of those veterans, Susan Mello and Nina Tagley, battled her to a double hill final game before she prevailed to claim the 9-ball title.

Evans-Taylor had gotten by Tracy Price, Jill Watson and Veronica Poore to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Jaye Succo. Mello, in the meantime, the first of the two tour veterans to face Evans-Taylor, had won a play-in preliminary round over Jodi Hirning and then sent Crystal Parada, Mari Simonson and junior competitor Kennedy Meyman to the loss side to meet up with Jamie Hagerty in the other winners’ side semifinal. Nina Tagley had won her opening match against Colette Kruse, before losing a double hill fight to Amanda Pulley and embarking on a seven-match, loss-side winning streak that would see her compete in the finals.

Mello downed Hagerty 6-4 while Evans-Taylor defeated Succo 7-5. Evans-Taylor claimed the hot seat with a double hill win over Mello.

On the loss side, Hagerty was the one who had the misfortune of drawing Tagley, who was, at the time, four matches into her loss-side trip, which had recently included victories over Marcy Thomas and Veronica Poore. Succo picked up Leandrea Gaff, who was also working on a four-match winning streak that was about to end. Gaff had just eliminated Amanda Pulley, double hill and Colette Kruse 6-3.

Tagley sent Hagerty home 7-1 and in the quarterfinals, faced Succo, who’d ended Gaff’s loss-side streak 7-2. Tagley stopped Succo’s loss-side wins at 1 with a 7-3 win in those quarterfinals.

Tagley and Mello battled in the semifinals, both of them looking for a rematch against Evans-Taylor in the hot seat. Mello had faced her most recently in the hot seat match of this event, while Tagley and Evans-Taylor had battled at other times and other places on the tour.

Tagley won the semifinal battle 7-3 over Mello. The finals were a straight up, extended race to 9 and proved to be the second double hill match of the event for both of them. Evans-Taylor dropped the last 9-ball and claimed the title.

Bustamante wins 7 on the loss side to win BALLS ONLY, Miller wins 4 to claim Second Chance

Joven Bustamante’s winners’ side journey in the 30-entrant BALLS ONLY, 10-ball event saw him give up five racks in two matches, losing the second match to a competitor (Adam Hanten) who only had to chalk up four racks to win, which he did. Bustamante’s subsequent seven-match, loss-side trip saw him give up a total of nine racks in seven matches; two racks, three times/one rack, three times and one shut out. He crowned this achievement with back-to-back shutouts in a true double elimination final over Robert Moreno, who’d been sitting in the hot seat waiting for him.

It was Moreno and Joey Barrera who battled for the hot seat in this one. It turned into a double hill fight that eventually sent Barrera to a doomed semifinal meetup with Bustamante. The two opponents who’d lost out in the winners’ side semifinals – Tim Biggs to Moreno 5-0 and Jesse Johnson to Barrera, double hill – moved to the loss side and walked right into their second straight loss.

Biggs lost to Avery Reece and Johnson ran into Bustamante, four matches into his loss-side streak. Bustamante downed Reece in the quarterfinals 7-1 and began a 21-0 streak that saw him defeat Barrera once in the semifinals and Moreno twice in the finals.

Sara Miller’s run through the 12-entrant Second Chance field was a breeze by comparison. She dropped three opponents 4-2 to claim the hot seat and then defeated one of those three (Kaia Fujimoto) a second time, double hill to claim the Second Chance title.

Fujimoto was Miller’s first and last victory (4-0). Miller was Fujimoto’s second and eighth opponent, representing both of her losses (6-2).

Miller’s third opponent, Mari Simonson, battled for the hot seat, but as the victim of Miller’s third 4-2 victory in a row, she moved to the semifinals to be shut out by Fujimoto. Jill Watson, who’d been defeated by Miller 4-2 in a winners’ side semifinal, survived a double hill fight versus Barbara Lee on the loss side, lost a double hill, quarterfinal match to Fujimoto and finished 4th.

Tour representatives thanked the ownership and staff at Bull Shooters, as well as sponsors Realty One Group, A Best Billiards, Las Glorias Grill, Goober Pet Direct, Your Way Logistics, Idle Hands Vintage, Sophia’s House Cleaning, Avalon Home Performance LLC, Big Time Threads and Friends of the AWBT. The nest stop on the AWBT, scheduled for March 5-6, will be hosted by Griff’s in Las Vegas, NV.

Stephanie Hefner Wins NAPT Division II Championship

Stephanie Hefner

A field of forty six of the top ladies in the country, representing seven different regional tours, made their way to Bullshooters in Phoenix, Arizona to compete in the North American Pool Tour’s Division II Championship on February 13th – 16th.
 
The event kicked off on Thursday with six round robin groups competing in seven rack matches. With the top four players from each group advancing based on total games won, players could not take any opponent lightly at any point in the match. 
 
After two days of play, the field was narrowed to just twenty four players. The top player from each group, as well as the top two runner-up finishers from round robin play, all earned first round byes, with the remaining sixteen “top four” finishers being forced to play first round matches. 
 
Home field advantage proved to be valuable coming out of the groups, with four of the eight byes earned by Arizona Woman’s Billiard Tour (AWBT) players. The pool gods proved fickle though, as three of those four players (Leandrea Gaff, Susan Williams and Jaye Succo) were all knocked to the one loss side after their first matches. Bernie Store was the only local player to win her first double elimination stage match. Store then went on to defeat the Northwest Women’s Pool Association (NWPA) tour’s Michelle Hughes to remain unbeaten going into Sunday. She was joined by the NWPA Tour’s Stephanie Hefner, Gigi Callejas (West Coast Women’s Tour) and Suzanne Smith (NWPA). 
 
On the one loss side, Hughes earned her place in Sunday play with a hill-hill win over Succo, and was joined by Williams, Marian Poole and a player who had clawed her way through the entire event, Bonnie Ogg from the West Coast Women’s Tour. 
 
Ogg’s play all weekend was noteworthy in that she escaped her group as the 4th player, and then lost her first match on Saturday to Suzanne Smith. Ogg then came within a rack of a “two and out” elimination, beating Khahn Ngo hill-hill on the one loss side Ogg’s last match on Saturday saw her trailing Ricki Casper 6-3, but she dug down and won four straight racks to earn her spot in Sunday play. 
 
Sunday play saw Hefner face off with Store. Store was the top ranked player in the event and Hefner knew she was going to be an obstacle that she had to overcome. She rose to the occasion and beat Store 7-5 to advance to the hot-seat match. “Going into this tournament, I really had ambition. I wanted to do well, and I knew she was going to be the toughest opponent. Not just because of her Fargo, but she’s the hometown girl. I’d never played her, so I didn’t know how we’d match up. It felt like an accomplishment getting through her, but I knew I couldn’t relax. “
 
Hefner then went on to hand Callejas a 7-3 loss to take the hot-seat, but she knew her job still wasn’t done as she headed to a practice table to stay sharp while waiting for an opponent. “I knew they would be fresh and I wanted to make sure that if I missed any balls, it wasn’t because I wasn’t in stroke.” she said. 
 
On the one loss side, Ogg continued her improbable run. A 7-3 win over group 4 winner Marian Poole was followed up by a 7-5 win over Store. Ogg’s next match was a true example of how brutal the pool gods can be. Ogg led Suzanne Smith 6-5, but left herself a tough 9-ball in the twelfth, that required the mechanical bridge. She missed that shot, allowing Smith to tie things at 6-6. Smith quickly took control of the final rack and ran to the 9 with textbook pattern play. She took her timeout and gathered herself to make the final 9-ball. That might have taken her out of her rhythm though, as she missed the 9-ball and left the match for Ogg to cleanup. Ogg had a much easier time with Callejas in the semi-final match, breaking a 3-3 tie to win 7-3.
 
The final match looked to be “advantage Hefner” on paper, as she eclipsed Ogg’s 508 Fargo rating by nearly 50 points, and Ogg would have to beat Hefner twice. Ogg had momentum though, and obviously wasn’t going to just give up. The turning point of the match appeared to happen with Hefner leading 4-2. Both players were caught up in a safety battle on the 8-ball, when Hefner took on a bank shot that would have made a one pocket player proud. She banked in the 8 and then banked the 9-ball into the same hole … left handed. “I almost played the same safe back, but I thought it was two way. Even if I rattled the eight, she might not get back for the nine so I just decided ‘screw it’ and went for it. I was a little less confident taking the shot left handed, but sometimes when I’m in it, the banks just happen and I don’t think about it.“ Ogg would fight back to get within one at 5-4, but it was Hefner who then won the last two racks for the 7-4 win. 
 
Hefner took the trophy, and $1400 in prize money, back to Oregon. Ogg settled for $1000 in prize money and the knowledge that her Fargo ratings is due for a major increase. 

Sykes from the JPNEWT wins first major at NAPT Division II Championships in Phoenix

Bethany Sykes (photo courtesy of NAPT – Playnapt.com)

Prior to her start and victory at the $5,000-added North American Pool Tour’s 3rd Annual Division II Championships, held from February 21-24 at Bullshooters in Phoenix, AZ, Bethany Sykes had only one major victory on her brief, two-year, four-event, cash payout resume; two of those payouts were earned on the J. Pechauer Northeast Womens’ Tour (JPNEWT) and two, including the only victory, came on the Action Pool Tour (APT), where, this past November, she won the Virginia State Ladies 8-Ball Championships. It should be noted that the Ladies’ VA State 8-Ball event featured a field of only five entrants, although as they say, a win is a win is a win. For Sykes, though, the NAPT Div. II Championships were her “first big tournament” and the win was like gravy on a main meal of just being thrilled to be there and the four-day joy of participation.
 
“It was an incredible feeling,” she said of her first impressions, “just to be there with that many women in the room (64 entrants).”
 
“It was an awesome experience,” she went on to say, noting that it was her first time playing in a round robin event, and the first time she’d ever had to deal with a shot clock. “I found that the 30 seconds gave me no time for indecision about what could go wrong. There was no thinking about anything but the shot.”
 
As her resume indicates, she’s only been playing the sport competitively for the past couple of years, although she says she’s been in love with the game since she was about nine years old. She got her first cue when she was 16 and now, at 31, she’s crossed a big threshold and won her first major tournament. Her appearances on the JPNEWT and APT over the last year or two helped her to identify and improve some of the basics to which she had not been exposed previously.
 
“I never knew where to put my feet,” she said of her early attempts to develop a stance. “I got a lesson from Karen Corr about five months ago, and she told me where to put my feet.”
 
With her feet sorted out, Sykes joined 63 other women from seven regional ladies pool tours at these Division II Championships; six from the United States and four women from a ladies tour out of Quebec. The most heavily represented tour among the seven was the Texas-based Jerry Olivier Pool Tour (JO), with 14 entrants, about 22% of the field. The Northwest Women’s Pool Association (NWPA) was next with 12, followed by the ‘hometown’ Arizona Women’s Billiards Tour (AWBT), which had 11. The West Coast Women’s Tour (WCWT) sent 9. The JPNEWT contributed 8 (including Sykes), the North Central Pool Tour (NCPT) checked in with 6, while  four women represented the ‘Circuit de Billard Feminine du Quebec.’
 
They broke up into eight round robin flights of eight players each, beginning on Thursday, February 21. Sykes, in Group Two, representing the JPNEWT, was paired with a primarily West Coast field; Cassie Francois and Elaine Eberly from the NWPA, Ginger Bowen from the WCWT, Jaye Succo and Leandra Gaff from the AWBT, Tam Trinh from the JO and Marilou Therrien from the Canadian league.
 
Sykes opened her campaign at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday morning with a 5-2 win over Francois. In round two, she got by Eberly 4-2 and then, in the final match of the opening day, she survived a double hill fight (4-3) against Trinh, which would prove to be highly significant later. As measured by total games won, she was the ‘flight’ leader at the end of that first day, with 13 games won. Gaff, Trinh and Therrien were second with 12 each.
 
Day two didn’t start out as well. Succo defeated her 5-2. Though Gaff and Therrien had been defeated, as well in the fourth round, Trinh downed Bowen 5-2, putting her out in front (by game points) 17-15.
 
“In that morning match (on the second day),” said Sykes, “(Succo) came out on fire. And from being ahead by one, I was all of a sudden behind by two games.”
 
Sykes survived a double hill (4-3) battle against Therrien in round 5, as Trinh lengthened her game lead by one more, with a 5-2 defeat of Eberly. With the game score between them now at 22-19, in favor of Trinh, they both chalked up 5-2 wins; Sykes over Bowen and Trinh over Succo. The game score between Sykes and Trinh was now at 27-24, with a single match to play.
 
Since the top four in each flight would advance to a 32-player, double elimination bracket, Sykes’ advancement at that point, short of being shut out or winning only a single game in the final match, was pretty much assured. Sykes sealed the deal with a 6-1 victory over Gaff that left her with 30 total wins. When Trinh fell to Francois 5-2 in that final round, she ended up with 29 total wins, allowing Sykes, by a single win (reflected in their earlier match), to enter the double elimination phase as the winner of her individual flight.
 
Heather Cortez, from the AWBT, with 37 total wins in her round robin flight was the top winner in her flight as well as the overall winner of the round robin phase of the event. Other top winners from the individual round robin flights were Michelle Cortez, from the Jerry Olivier Tour, in second place overall with 36 total wins. Susan Williams, with 35, from the AWBT was third. Suzanne Smith, from the NWPA, was fourth with 34, Natalie Chabot (from Canada) and Sykes’ eventual opponent in the hot seat and finals, Kim Pierce from the JO, were tied for fifth with 33 wins each. Yang Liu from the West Coast Women’s Tour was sixth with 31 total wins. Though she’d enter the double elimination phase of the event as the winner of her flight, Sykes was last among the individual flight winners advancing to the final two days of the event. Advancement to the double elimination rounds guaranteed all 32 participants at least of the share of the total $11,400 prize package.
 
“The Round Robin was so scary,” she said. “Every single game mattered. I grew from the experience, though. That Round Robin hardened me.”
 
Seven down, seven to go.
 
Over the next two days, Sykes played seven more matches; four on the winners’ side, one on the loss side, and two in the double elimination final. None were against the opponents she’d faced in her own round robin flight, one was against the overall winner of the round robin phase of the event (Heather Cortez) and three were against Pierce.
 
To get into their first match together, Sykes and Pierce would eventually, in the two winners’ side semifinals, have to get by two AWBT opponents. Sykes opened her winners’ side campaign on Saturday morning, February 23, against Gigi Callejas from the West Coast Women’s Tour, downing her 7-3. She followed that with victories over Jennifer Kraber (JO) 7-3 and then, defeated the overall round robin winner, AWBT’s Heather Cortez 7-4, to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal match against a formidably more experienced opponent, another AWBT entrant, Bernie Store. Pierce, in the meantime, had defeated Nicole Donisi from the NWPA 7-3, both Janna Nelson (7-5) and Khanh Ngo (7-3) from the West Coast Women’s Tour and arrived at her winners’ side semifinal match against yet another AWBT entrant, Susan Williams.
 
Sykes and Pierce got into the hot seat match with identical 7-5 wins over Store and Williams. In their first of three, Pierce claimed the hot seat in a double hill match.
 
“I got on the hill and things just fell apart,” said Sykes of that hot seat match, “and I couldn’t get it back together.”
 
On the loss side, Store picked up Ngo, who, following her defeat at the hands of Pierce, had defeated Stephanie Hefner 7-2, and survived a double hill match against Michelle Cortez. Williams drew Heather Cortez, who, following her defeat at the hands of Sykes, had shut out Kelly Jones and eliminated Tam Trinh 7-5.
 
Heather Cortez and Williams locked up in a double hill fight that eventually advanced Cortez to the quarterfinals. She was joined by Ngo, who’d defeated Store 7-4. Cortez and Ngo had faced each other on the opening day of the round robin matches, with Cortez winning that battle 5-2. This time, in the quarterfinals, it was Ngo who came out on top, winning it 7-5.
 
Sykes, though, having so unexpectedly, but joyfully arrived at this spot in her “first big tournament” was in no mood to let it go. She downed Ngo 7-2 in those semifinals and turned for a second and, necessary in a double elimination format, third shot at Pierce in the hot seat. They locked up in their second straight double hill battle in the opening set, but this time, it was Sykes coming out of it with the win. She completed her 12-2 run with a decisive 7-2 win over Pierce in the second set.
 
“People tell me I have no sense of tension,” said Sykes. “I always feel as though I’m in the right place at the right time. That was what made the whole thing exciting.”
 
“I went out there to get into the top four,” she added. “That was my goal as soon as I read about the tour. This was my first opportunity to get to that level and I spent the week before, imagining what it would be like; thinking of how I’d be telling my Dad about it afterwards.”
 
Exactly one week later, on the first weekend in March, Sykes rejoined her JPNEWT comrades, competing on the tour’s season opener at Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD. In a field of 22, Sykes had the misfortune of running into tour director Linda Shea, who defeated her in the opening round. She’d win two on the loss side before finishing in the tie for 9th place when she was defeated by Sharon O’Hanlon.
 
And so it goes, in the world of the emerging amateur into the world of the best in pool. Up one day, down the next. She remains somewhat in awe of her “first big tournament” win and is looking ahead at better things to come. She expects, looking ahead to competing at the Super Billiards Expo’s Women’s Pro 9-Ball event, her first shot at the Pro level, to continue improving. She is also keenly aware that pool careers, like the tournaments along the way, can be a relentless series of hills and valleys.
 
“My goal,” she said, “is to make the gaps between them smaller and smaller.”
 
“I expect to be playing with the best of them,” she said of her hopes for the next five years. “I have no aspirations of anything in particular, just to be playing at that level.”

Tagley Returns To AWBT Winner’s Circle

Nina Tagley and Heather Cortez

She had knocked on the door all season, but Nina Tagley finally broke through into the winner’s circle at the AWBT’s 3rd stop of the season at Kolby’s on June 2nd – 3rd.

 

The field of thirty-two players held it’s usual assortment of monsters, but an unusually large number of those monsters found themselves on the one loss side early as four former tour stop winners (Susan Williams, Jaye Succo, Amanda Pulley and Bernie Store) dropped their first-round matches. Of those monsters, Succo was out in two rounds while Store would only make it one more round as she lost in three rounds.
 
Back on the winner’s side, Tagley had her work cut out for her as she scored wins over April runner-up Justine Bishop, Windy “Five Rounds Deep” Breck, Pearl Ortiz and Rae Evans. As if that wasn’t a tough enough draw, Tagley then had to face “The Torpedo” Heather Cortez. Tagley would drop the match to Cortez 7-3.
 
The left side of the board came down to Evans and Ortiz, who were both looking to avenge their early losses to Tagley and then take on Cortez. Evans got past Ortiz 6-5, but Tagley then made quick work of Rae Evans, beating her by the same 7-2 score that she beat her on the right side of the board.
 
The extended final set between Cortez and Tagley saw Tagley score a hard-fought 9-6 win for her first tour stop win in well over 10 years.
 
Tagley credited home field advantage with helping her get back to the winner’s circle in this one. “I’ve played at Kolbys for nearly 30 years, and last year it was Heather and I 1st and 2nd at this event at Kolbys” Tagley remembered. She also pointed out how close she has been in recent stops. “If you look at the last six events, I’ve scored 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishes. I think my focus level has changed a bit recently, I’m a bit more disciplined now than I used to be.” she said.
 
Eleven players came back on Sunday to compete in the second chance tournament, with Mary Walczak defeating Justine Bishop for the hot-seat, and then Sandi Wilson in the finals, for first place.

Pulley Wins Freezers’ AWBT Tour Stop

Amanda Pulley and Justine Bishop

They came out in droves at the 2nd stop of the Arizona Women’s Billiard Tour, with a field of 56 players at Freezer’s Ice House on April 28th – 29th.

 

Surprisingly in a field of that size, early rounds held their fair share of marquee matchups with #3 ranked Amanda Pulley starting her tournament off with a 6-3 win over #1 ranked Bernie Store and Las Vegas’ Mary Coffman scoring a first round 7-2 win over Sara Miller. While those matches were not necessarily upsets, junior player Tory Conley’s 5-5 win over Jaye Succo was an eye opener and just went to show how much the junior player’s games are improving.
 
The top half of the board saw Pulley score wins over Windy Breck, Pearl Ortiz and #2 ranked Heather Cortez to earn her place in the hot-seat match on Sunday. The bottom half of the bracket was all about Justine Bishop as she dominated her matches, not allowing an opponent more than three games against her. As if that performance wasn’t strong enough already, Bishop then went on to beat Pulley 6-1 for the hot-seat.
 
On the one loss side, Susan Williams was on a run. After a first-round loss to Store, Williams won seven straight matches on the left side of the board, including over such notable opponents as Cathy Kelley, Conley, Tracie Hamman and Cortez. Williams’ run was finally brought to an end by Pearl Ortiz who had put together a four-match winning streak after the earlier loss to Pulley. The win over Williams earned Ortiz another shot at Pulley, but she wouldn’t fare any better with a 6-3 loss.
 
Bishop won the first two games in her first AWBT finals appearance in more than a decade. Pulley pulled the brakes on her and won the next 8 games in a row to clinch the match
 
When asked about this tournament – her 4th tour win – Pulley commented on the tough field. “In this tournament, each time I discovered my next opponent, I was like, “Awww, man, another monster?” And each time with luck and skill, I found a way to work through the match. I was calm after the initial anxiety, and without expectation; that helped a lot.”
 
Twenty-two players came back for Sunday’s second chance tournament, where Veronica Poore defeated Jaye Succo in the finals for first place.
 
The AWBT will next be in action on June 2nd and 3rd at Pockets in Tucson.

Texas Tornado Lays Waste to AWBT Field

Vivian Villarreal (Photo courtesy of Rick Schmitz)

As the field is filling up at an AWBT event, players are used to seeing the same group of regulars arrive to throw their hat in the ring. Williams, Store, Cortez, Mello, etc. So, it probably came as a pretty big surprise to most of them when they saw WPBA veteran, Vivian "The Texas Tornado" Villarreal walk into Main Street Billiards for the third tour stop on July 8th and 9th. While Villarreal might have been the most experienced player in the field, she was joined by the largest field at an AWBT stop this season, 37 players. 
 
When play got underway, Villarreal quickly laid to rest any doubts as to who the favorite was at this event. Villarreal spun her way through the winner’s side on Saturday with identical 7-1 wins over Beth Orth, Claudia Morado and road partner, Barbara Lee. Villarreal was joined by New Mexico’s Pearl Ortiz, Bernie Store and Priscilla Hernandez on the winner’s side at the end of Saturday play. The left side of the board was also full of dangerous opponents in the form of Jaye Succo, Barbara Lee, Heather Cortez and Sara Miller
 
Sunday play looked a lot like what the fans had watched on Saturday, with Villarreal getting things underway with a 7-1 win over Ortiz, and then a 7-2 win over Bernie Store to take the hot-seat. 
 
On the one loss side, Barbara Lee eliminated Succo and Hernandez, but couldn’t get by Ortiz and settled for 4th place. Ortiz then dropped the semi-final match to Store 7-2, setting up a rematch between Store and Villarreal in the finals. 
 
While most fans might have expected another lopsided score in the extended final match, Store had other plans completely. “Vivian shoots very fast, and I caught myself shooting at her pace in the first match. In the second match, I concentrated on playing at my usual pace, and it helped a lot” said Store after the event. Store came out and ran the first rack to remind Villarreal that she wasn’t going to just hand her the title. The players battled back and forth, until Store held the lead at 6-5 in the race to 9. From there though, it was all Villarreal, as she won four straight games for the 9-6 win and first place. 
 
Two players in the event earned invites for an upcoming North American Pool Tour (NAPT) stop in Illinois. Barbara Lee’s 4th place finish earned her one spot, with Justin Bishop earning the second.
 
Fourteen players returned to Main Street on Sunday for the second chance tournament, where Veronica Poore turned in a dominating performance to take first. Veronica lost a total of two racks over five complete matches, and was never challenged on her way to first place.

Bernie Store Wins AWBT Stop

Bernie Store

Bernie Store returned to the AWBT’s winners circle, with an undefeated run through a field of 28 players to capture the second stop of the season at Skip & Jan’s in Gilbert Arizona on April 30th – May 1st. 
 
Store dominated day one of the event, with wins over Kim Kauffman, Amanda Pulley and Becky Onnembo. Store finished the day with 21 game wins and 7 game losses. 
 
Joining Store on the winner’s side were Sara Miller, Heather Cortez and Sarah Geoghan
 
The one loss side saw a couple surprises as stop 1 winner Amanda Pulley, and Susan Williams both failed to make it to two day. Pulley dropped a left side match to Tami Hathcock, and Williams lost the last match of the night on Saturday to Leadrea Gaff.
 
Sunday play on the winner’s side saw Store defeat Cortez 7-3 and Miller send Geoghan to the one loss side 7-4. Store would then go on to defeat Miller in a hill-hill match for the hot-seat.
 
On the one loss side, Onnembo defeated Gaff and Jaye Succo eliminated Susan Mello. Both players coming over from the winner’s side then won matches, as Geoghan defeated Onnembo, and Cortez defeated Succo.
 
A 7-4 win by Cortez over Geoghan, kept Cortez’s tournament hopes alive, but Miller quickly snuffed those hopes out with a 7-2 win in the semi-finals. 
 
Store jumped on Miller right out of the gate in the finals, and quickly held a 5-1 lead in the extended race to 9. Miller would fight back, but it was Store scoring a 9-5 win in the end. 
 
Store’s win, combined with her runner up finish at stop 1, moves her to the top of the AWBT points list. Miller moves into second place on the list. With their first and second place finishes, Store and Miller also won invites to the North American Pool Tour’s 10-Ball Invitational in Herndon, Va this June. 
 
Eleven players returned to Skip and Jan’s on Sunday to compete in the second chance tournament. That event saw Susan Williams go undefeated for first place, with Jessica Derezinski taking second. 
 
Tour staff expressed their thanks to Natalie and her great staff at Skip and Jan’s for hosting their season opener. Thanks were also given to the “friends of the AWBT” who added $100 to the main event and $50 to the second chance tournament, as well as Las Gloria Grille for adding $100 to the main event. 
 
The AWBT will be at Stingers on June 25th – 26th, for their next stop.

Wagner Wins AWBT Tour Stop

Rebecca Wagner (Photo courtesy of Nick De Leon)

Rebecca Wagner made it a perfect “two for two” with her second win in as many appearances on the Arizona Woman’s Billiard Tour in 2015. 
 
After a shaky 7-5 start over Claudia Justus, Wagner was untouchable as she won her next two matches by a combined score of 14-2 to advance to Sunday play on the right side of the board. Matching Wagner match for match, was Fort Worth’s Tara Williams. Williams had wins over Marcy Thomas, Bernie Store and Sara Miller on Saturday to remain undefeated. 
 
Joining Wagner and Williams on the winner’s side after one day of play were Nina Tagley and Susan Williams.
 
On the one loss side, Store was mowing down the competition with her sights set on Sunday play. Wins over Sandi Wilson, Claudia Justus and Amanda Pulley were enough to get her there. Sara Miller, Jaye Succo and Justine Bishop would also make it to Sunday play on the one loss side.
 
Sunday matches saw Wagner and Tara Williams keep pace with each other as Williams beat Nina Tagley 7-5 and Wagner beat Susan Williams 7-2. Wagner and Tara Williams would face each other for the hot-seat, which was won by Wagner 7-4.
 
Sunday play on the one loss side saw Sara Miller eliminate Jaye Succo in 7th place, and then Susan Wiliams in 5th place. Meanwhile Bernie Store eliminated Justine Bishop in 7th place and then Nina Tagley in 5th place.
 
The rivalry continued between Miller and Store, with Store pulling out a 7-5 win this time. Miller had a chance to tie the score at 6-6, but missed a 9-ball that gifted the match to Store. 
 
The semi-final match, between Store and Tara Williams, looked to be on its way to a quick finish with Williams cruising to a 5-0 lead. That was when things took a bad turn for Williams. Williams missed a couple of balls that she would have made early in the match and all of a sudden her “can’t miss” confidence was shaken. Store was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunities and the match was eventually tied at 6-6. Both players struggled in the final game, but a miss on the 7-ball was all that Williams could take as she unscrewed her cue and congratulated Store for the win.
 
The extended final match started out close. Store took an early 2-0 lead, but Wagner came back to a tie at 3-3. The score would be tied again at 4-4 and 5-5 before Wagner took control and climbed to the hill at 8-5. A great 6-9 combo by Store brought her back within two racks at 8-6, but it was just delaying the finish as Wagner broke and ran the next rack for the 9-6 win.
 
The second chance tournament on Sunday saw Amanda Pulley bounce back from a loss in her first match to run the one loss side with five match wins and then defeat Tami Hathcock in the finals for first place.
 
The Arizona Women’s Billiard Tour will be back in action on October 17th and 18th at Pockets Pool & Pub in Tucson.
 
Assistant Tour director Tres Kane gave his thanks to Mike and Julie Bates, and the staff of Bullshooters for hosting and adding $300 to the main event and $100 to the second chance event, Jose Gonzales of Las Glorias Grille for adding $100 to the main event and his partner Kristie Ortega for running another fine event.