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Hayden Ernst and Noelle Tate win 13U Boys/Girls 2023 season-opening JIC events

Noelle Tate

Last year, at just about this time, Noelle Tate (13) placed 4th at the first stop of the 2022 JIC series in the 13U Girls division. She would go on to place 3rd three times at stops #3, #6 & #8 and finish third in the overall rankings of that division. She also finished 6th in the 18U Girls division and in the 18U Girls Championships in November at the International Open, she defeated her older sister, Bethany, in the semifinals and finished second to Sofia Mast. A little over two weeks later (Dec. 17-18), that same scenario played out at the independent “When the Smoke Clears” 20U Girls division event at Wolf’s Den in Roanoke; Noelle downing her sister Bethany in the semifinals and then being defeated by Mast in those event finals. Competition has led Noelle Tate and Mast to become, in the lingo of their age group, “besties.” 

Like her brother, Joey, Noelle came to the season-opening event of the 2023 JIC season and made a statement. Coming from the loss side in the 13U Girls division (8 entrants), she avenged a defeat at the hands of Arianna Houston in the battle for the hot seat and following a successful semifinal, defeated Houston in the finals to claim the event title. She also competed in the 18U Girls division, where she was initially defeated by 3rd place finisher, Precilia Kinsley in the opening round and in her first loss-side match, fell victim to her older sister, Bethany in what had to have been an interesting, family-dynamic, double-hill battle.

In the 13U Girls event, Noelle got by Raylee Graves 7-1 and Skylynn Elliott 7-4 to arrive at the hot seat match. Houston downed Franki Spain 7-5 and Skylar Hess, double hill, to join her. Houston and Tate locked up in a double hill fight that eventually did send Tate to the semifinals.

On the loss side, Hess, after her defeat at the hands of Houston, eliminated Kelli Banks 7-1 and Elliott 7-5 to draw Tate in the semifinals. Tate earned her re-match against Houston with a 7-5 semifinal victory over Hess in those semifinals. 

In an extended race-to-9, Tate and Houston battled back and forth to their second straight double hill match. Tate won it to claim the season-opening 13U Girls title.

Hayden Ernst

Ernst goes undefeated to claim 2023 opening event of 13U Boys division

Hayden Ernst took full advantage of the absence of Eddie Vondereau in the 13U Boys division this past weekend and went undefeated through a field of 12 entrants to claim the season opening division title. Ernst was not exactly the ‘mouse’ that played when the ‘cat’ was away, because he’d won two of the five 2022 JIC 13U Boys events in which he competed last year and finished 4th in the division rankings. He was sort of another vigilant ‘cat’ that this past weekend’s 13U Boys field had to contend with. Vonderau had won four of the five he competed in last year and finished at the top of those rankings (ahead of, in order, Jas Makhani, Deke Squier and Ernst). Vondereau did not compete in the 13U Boys division at this season opening stop, but he was runner-up to Joey Tate in the 18U Boys division.

The other two competitors, ahead of him in last year’s rankings, did compete in this 12-entrant, 13U Boys season opener, but Ernst didn’t have to face either of them. Ernst didn’t give up more than two racks before he’d advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against D’Angelo “Jawz” Spain who chalked up five against him. Ernst advanced to the hot seat match, where he faced Jas Makhani, who’d defeated Colston Harrelston 7-4 to join him. Ernst claimed the hot seat 7-5 over Makhani and waited on the return of what turned out to be “Jawz.”

On the loss side, “Jawz” trip back to the finals began with a double hill fight against Tanner McKinney. With that out of the way, in the quarterfinals “Jawz” faced Harrelston, who’d defeated Marlin Foster 7-5 to reach him.

“Jawz” gave up only three racks in his quarterfinal battle against Harrelston and while Jas Makhani put up a one-game-away-from-double-hill fight in the semifinals, “Jawz” prevailed for a shot against Ernst, waiting for him in the hot seat. 

Ernst and “Jawz” fought a double hill fight for the 13U Boys title. Ernst won it to claim his first, though likely not his last, 2023 JIC title.

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Tate, Mast and “Jawz” Spain head up winners of “When the Smoke Clears” junior events

D’Angelo Spain

Catchy name.

Risky Shotz and S & T Billiards present . . . When the Smoke Clears!

The only thing that comes logically and immediately to mind is ‘What happens when the smoke clears?” which leads one to wonder and then, search for answers and the next thing you know, you’re looking at a poster telling you the who (junior competitors), the what (a $1K-added set of four tournaments on a single weekend), the where (Center Pocket, Bowie, MD), the when (Dec. 17-18) and the why  of it (cash prizes).

As the ‘name’ indicates, the tournaments were not held under the auspices of the Junior International Championships series of tournaments, spearheaded by Ra Hanna and his On The Wire Creative Media organization, but you wouldn’t have known it from the roster of people who organized it or the junior competitors who competed in it. 

Tournaments first. There were three ‘main’ events: A Boys 20U (16 entrants), a Girls 20U (8), and a 13U, either-gender tournament (13). The fourth, a Sunday Second Chance for the 13U mixed-gender crowd, drew 13, as well. 

And when the smoke cleared, D’Angelo Spain (aka Jawz), riding the crest of a home-town advantage, won two of the four. He won both of the 13U events. One on Saturday, one on Sunday. He went undefeated, downing Sofia Mast in Saturday’s final, and came from the loss side to take down Cameron Hollingsworth on Sunday’s Second Chance final. He placed 5th/6th in the 20U Boys division, too. If they’d let him play with the 20U girls, he might have made it a four-fer. Spain is 11 years old.

Sofia Mast

Joey Tate and Sofia Mast won their respective 20U divisions. Tate came from the loss side to take down perennial rival, Landon Hollingsworth in the finals of the 20U Boys division, while Mast went undefeated to take the girls’ title, with two Tate sisters (Noelle,13 and Bethany,16) in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.

Recently, it was learned that Mast was among the country’s 100 top Fargo-rated female pool players, nestled in at #87 between Jennifer Baretta (#1) and Kia Burwell (#100). Mast is 13.

“It has been an amazing ride,” she posted on her FB page, of the four years since she first picked up a cue and the two years that she’s since been competing against fellow juniors and adult professionals. “There have been many ups and downs, long days and nights, many plane and car rides, many laughters, many tears.”

“I will get knocked down many times,” she wrote, “but I will always go out fighting and I will come back stronger.”

She wrote this after she’d gone undefeated in the 20U Girls division and after, a day later, she’d been sent to the loss side in the 13U Second Chance event (by Jawz 7-2), before fighting back  through Lathan Elliott 7-3, Marlin Foster 7-2 and Tanner McKinney 7-3 to face Spain a second time, in the finals. She battled him to double hill and there, but for the fall of a single 9-ball, she might have been the one to claim half of the weekend’s events.

The Tate sisters played each other in the opening round and semifinals of the 20U Girls division; Bethany took the opener 7-3 and Noelle, battling to double hill, won their semifinal matchup. Mast played them both; downing Bethany in the hot seat 7-4 and Noelle in the finals 7-2.

Joey Tate

In the 20U Boys division, it was the Hollingsworth brothers who took a ‘shot’ at each other. Younger brother, Cameron, sent eventual winner, (the Tate family’s)  “Big Brother” Joey to the loss side 7-4 in the second round and advanced to take a shot at his brother, Landon in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Landon won 7-5. Nathan Childress, in the meantime, got a shot at both members of the Spain family, downing 20-year-old Marine, Snipper Spain 7-2 in the opening round. The presence of Snipper Spain came as a surprise to his younger siblings. They didn’t know he was coming until he woke them up on Friday morning; an early Christmas gift.

“I think that gave Jawz all the boost and motivation he needed to compete at a high level in the tournament, which began the very next day,” wrote their father, Frank. “It was great to see all of my kids competing in the same tournament together like they used to do.”

That said, Childress faced Jawz in the other winners’ side semifinal and defeated him 7-3. Hollingsworth grabbed the hot seat, downing Childress 7-5.

On the loss side, Jawz had the misfortune of drawing Joey Tate, who’d followed his loss to Cameron Hollingsworth with victories over two Tanners, Elliott and McKinney (7-4, 7-5) and then . . . well, Jawz would put it this way on his fan page – “Took my L’s from Nathan Childress and Joey Tate took me out (7-4).”

Tate went on to defeat Cameron Hollingsworth in the quarterfinals 7-4 and Childress in the semifinals 7-5. In a single race to 9, when the smoke cleared, Tate was champion of the 20U Boys, having eliminated his arch-rival, Landon Hollingsworth 9-2. 

Jawz rallied to put on a bit of a show for his surprise-Christmas-gift, older brother Snipper, by going undefeated in the main event, mixed gender 13U, going undefeated and taking out Sofia Mast twice; once in a winners’ side semifinal 7-4 and after claiming the hot seat from Tanner McKinney 7-4, again, in the finals in a double hill thriller.

“She is a BEAST,” wrote Jawz on his fan page. “I’ve always respected her game but never had to play her. That was a different experience (and) I loved every minute of it.”

Jawz went on to win the handicapped Second Chance Tournament on Sunday, but had to come from the loss side to claim that title. He advanced through the field to face Cameron Hollingsworth in the hot seat match. Cameron had just defeated his brother, Landon 7-7 in their winners’ side semifinal (Landon racing to 9) and carried that momentum into the hot seat match where he allowed Jawz only a single rack. In something of a surprise result, Landon Hollingsworth was eliminated by Tanner McKinney in the quarterfinals and Jawz eliminated McKinney 5-3 in the semifinals.

“Up to that point (the finals, Cameron), was untouched,” wrote Jawz on his fan page. “Well, when you dig deep and grind to the finish line, anything is possible. So that’s what I did. I managed to double-dip him and claim the title.”

With Hollingsworth racing to 7 and Jawz to 5, Jawz took the opening set 5-4. He let Cameron chalk up an extra rack in the second set, but won it and the title, 5-5.

“When the Smoke Clears was an independent event, in which I (as Risky Shotz, an apparel company and as a certified PBIA instructor, train students) partnered with S & T Billiards, a cue and accessories company,” noted Frank Spain. “Based out of Center Pocket in Bowie, MD, we organized it with Ra Hanna doing the streaming and Kory Wolford as the tournament director.”

Spain, Hanna and Wolford thanked Leia Burk and Taseen Abdulbarr and their Corner Pocket staff for their hospitality at which they are planning to ‘make the smoke clear’ on an annual basis. Spain also thanked Hanna for his streaming services, along with Madison Ortiz for a “generous donation” and his teaming with Hanna in the streaming booth for commentary.

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