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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.

Junior International Championship Player Of The Month – Tatum Cutting

Tatum Cutting

She knew going in that she was only going to get one shot at it. 

Three months into her 18th year, Tatum Cutting of Diamond, OH, signed on to participate in the first-ever series of junior tournaments, collectively known as the Junior International Championships (JIC), held under the auspices of Ra Hanna and his On the Wire Creative Media, which commenced this past January. Her ‘one shot’ consisted of the year-long quest to win the 18 & Under Girls Division of the JIC, which she did, just a few weeks shy of turning 19.

Not, however, without encountering a few bumps along the road, which forced her to rethink certain aspects of her game. She, like many of her fellow competitors, were growing up in a lot of different ways in the year of JIC competition and the lessons learned, as they say, were like bridges burned. You only needed to cross them once.

There were also a few bumps along the road she traveled just to get to the Junior International Championships; things she couldn’t have foreseen or done much about, not to mention a ‘bump’ that was out of her control altogether.  It was an accident of birth that disqualified her for participation in this past year’s BEF Junior National Championships. BEF rules governing participation in its annual event dictate that if you age out of a division at any point during the year that the championships are held, you cannot compete in that division. Tatum turned 19 on Nov. 16, 2021, five months after the Junior Nationals were held at the South Point Hotel & Convention Center in Las Vegas, but was disqualified from entry due to the restriction. This also prevented her from getting an invitation to the World Junior Championships, which were originally scheduled for Las Vegas, but were relocated to Austria due to COVID restrictions. Predator Cues, though, invited her to attend the concurrently-run Predator Austria Women’s Open, where she went three-and-out.

She was the BEF’s Junior National Champion in the 16 & Under Girls division in 2019, but even that event had its ‘bump.’ She was unable to attend that year’s Junior World Championships because her school would not accept the trip to Cyprus to compete as a school-related activity and as a result, not an authorized absence. It was at that point that her parents began to home school her.

The clock has to be wound back a bit to see where this all began, around the time when Tatum was 8 or 9 years old. At the time, her father, Justin Cutting, was looking for a hobby. He settled on pool as that hobby, and as he began to participate, he brought Tatum along.

“She came out with me and started banging balls,” he said. “She just enjoyed it and was pretty natural at it from the start.”

She was at an age at which part of the attraction was just the time she was spending with her father – “I’d never really been out with him before,” she recalled. – but that was soon enhanced by her own reaction to playing pool.

“Everybody seemed interested in how old I was,” she recalled of her early years at the tables, “and pointed out that I had some talent. I always wanted to have something I was good at.” 

“I didn’t play a sport (at school), and with pool, you don’t have to have a lot of athleticism,” she added. “Anybody can do it, really. And with pool, everything is always different, every time you step to the table; a different mind-set, a different kind of pressure and different events.”

According to Tatum, her chosen sport wasn’t a part of the school’s extracurricular activities and as a result, it made her something of an outsider. By the time she reached middle school, she found herself getting bullied for playing pool, although by this time, she was actually making money at it. She joined junior leagues, only to discover that she was already further advanced than most of her peers. As a junior competitor with the APA, she was a ‘7’ within a year.

“All the other kids weren’t where I was,” she said, “so I started playing in adult leagues.”

“And it turned out,” she added, “that I was better than some of the people who’d been at it longer than I’d been alive.”

According to her Dad, it was another ‘check mark’ in a growing list of them that encouraged her to keep at it. She was not only playing well, she was winning fairly consistently.

“Winning at such a young age, that ‘winning factor,’ even when she got into the adult stuff propelled her along,” he said. 

At that point, as her teen years were intent on flying by, she hit another ‘bump’ over which she had little or no control. It was a combination of a lack of places, leagues and/or regional tours in her immediate area that would allow someone her age to participate. She was eventually asked to join the WPBA, but by then, she was getting more and more engaged with school and most of the eligible events proved to be too far away to attend with any regularity.

She did manage to qualify and participate in the 2015 BEF Junior Nationals, finishing as the event’s runner-up. It’s an event that she looks back on as her first ‘major tournament’ experience. A year later, she surprised even herself, when she was able to finish in the money at the Super Billiard Expo’s Amateur Women’s Open.

“There were a lot of women in that event,” she recalled. “I was so young (14) and there was nobody at that tournament that was my age.”

Tatum Cutting

As practice, leagues and the occasional local tournament kept her hand on a pool cue, she discovered a career path, one with a few less ‘bumps’ than pool. Just as her desire to be “really good at something” had sparked her strong, and as it turned out, lasting interest in pool, so, too, did her love of math (her favorite subject in school) and an interest in the world of computers, lead her to pursue a career in cyber security engineering. She’d also gotten to know a woman with whom she played pool on a regular basis who’d attained a degree in the subject. It was a new major at Kent State where she enrolled this past year to pursue it. She’ll be eligible for a work-study program in her second year and is hoping that if she becomes associated with a good company that she’ll be able to continue along that career path through that company. She’ll graduate from Kent State in 2024.

In her final year as a junior competitor, Cutting enters the JIC series of tournaments

And then . . . along came Ra Hanna and his On the Wire Creative Media company, which launched this idea; a series of junior tournaments, set at pool rooms all across the country, leading to developing rank in any of five different divisions, culminating in a championship event that would coincide, temporally and geographically, with Pat Fleming’s US International Open in late October of 2021.

“Considering that (he organized approximately) one a month for a whole year for juniors,” she said, the sheer wonder of it animating her voice into excitement, “that was really good for pool. Not just for juniors, but for pool, in general.”

“Crazy good,” she added. “It even caught the attention of some of the pros.”

It was more, she went on to say, than just the sheer fact that Hanna was running it with ‘a little help from friends,’ including many competitors’ parents. Sure, he was the driving force behind all of the organization; arrangements for the venues and all of the nitty, gritty details of any kind of tour (again, with those ‘friends’), but it went beyond that. He became something of a parent figure, which helped all of the junior competitors bond in a way that might not have happened without him.

“We all became super close because of him,” said Tatum. “We became close because we wanted to hang out with Ra.”

And then, for Tatum, came another ‘bump in the road.’ This one, she put there herself.

“I really wanted to win (what was going to be) my last juniors tournament,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

Unable to attend the first JIC event in January, won by Sofia Mast (a name and person she’d come to know quite well in the year ahead), Tatum was elated and encouraged when she won the second one in March. She’d defeated Mast to claim the hot seat, and downed Bethany Tate in the finals to claim the title. She wouldn’t win again until August.

In the third event of the season, she finished as runner-up to Aryana Lynch, like Cutting, a former BEF Junior National Champion (2018). At the fourth event in May, the pressure she’d put on herself intruded and the ‘wheels’ came off a bit. Mast won her second, ahead of Skylar Hess and Bethany Tate, while Tatum finished in 9th place. She rallied in June, although Mast defeated her in a winners’ side quarterfinal. Tatum won four on the loss side to earn a rematch in the finals, but the 13-year-old Mast defeated her a second time in the finals to claim her second 18 & Under Girls title. At that point, midway through the JIC season, she was in third place in the 18 & Under Girls rankings; close enough to have earned her a spot in the October championships were the season to come to an end right then. But of course, it didn’t. And Sofia Mast was at the top of both the 18 & Under and 13 & Under divisions.

Prior to the seventh stop on the JIC tour, Tatum traveled to Sacramento, CA to compete in a juniors event organized by Oscar Dominguez. She and Landon Hollingsworth won their respective Girls and Boys 19 and Under division. Cutting, significantly, had defeated Mast in the opening round and in the finals. She, Kennedy Meyman and Mast finished as the event’s top three. But upon her return to the JIC schedule, at an August event in her own backyard (Fairfield, OH), Tatum found herself out of the running early, as Mast advanced to win her third 18 & Under Girls JIC title.

“It was very weird, but I just couldn’t seem to win two (events) in a row,” she said, adding that she had no idea what was going wrong. “I was still hitting the balls all right, I just didn’t do well.”

Some parental advice helped, as her father stepped in to right the apparently foundering ship. It didn’t change the loss in Fairfield, but it had a decided and ultimately, significant effect on what happened over the next two and final events.

“It was the pressure of increased expectations,” her father said. “Word had gotten out about her and people were paying attention; fans and people watching. I told her that their expectations didn’t mean a thing, that the only expectations she had to meet were in her head.”

“That,” he told her, “is on you.”

She also listened to another parental figure, Ra Hanna of On the Wire Creative Media, who reminded her that “if she ever found her old form and time to practice, that she’d be unstoppable.”   

She took the messages to heart, telling herself that all she had to do was “just go out and play pool. Just play the game and whatever happens, happens.” Her father watched as the message settled into his daughter’s head and led to a discernible sign of relief as Tatum turned to what lay ahead.

Tatum Cutting

The last stop before the JIC Championships for the 18 & Under Girls took place in Roanoke, VA on the weekend of Sept. 17-19 at the Wolf’s Den, owned and operated by Kory and Trena Wolford, two of the many ‘friends,’ who’d supported and offered substantial hands-on assistance to Ra Hanna throughout the JIC season (their daughter, Savanna, competed in the JIC series). Tatum came into the event one win behind Mast in the tour rankings (3-2), though unless Mast failed to show up altogether, she would finish the season (regardless of Tatum’s finish) at the top of the 18 & Under Girls division.

Both of them ended up on the loss side of the bracket; Mast, earlier (opening round) than Cutting, who’d lost a winners’ side semifinal match. They met in one of the two 5th/6th matches and any concerns about how Cutting was handling the continuing increased pressure that had dogged her efforts since spring disappeared when she shut Mast out, advancing to the quarterfinals, semifinals and finally, defeating Casey Cork, who’d sent her to the loss side in the winners’ side semifinal; not, however, before Cork, who was far below the 8-player threshold for advancement to the JIC Finals in Norfolk in a month, put up a double hill fight that nearly derailed Cutting’s efforts. Cutting prevailed to tie her with Mast in total victories on the JIC season.

On to Norfolk and the weekend of Oct. 28-30. The JIC 18 & Under Girls Championship, the top prize for which Tatum had been battling, not to mention occasionally struggling, for 10 months, loomed in the short-distance. Mast and Cutting almost met in the hot seat match, but Cutting had drawn Skylar Hess in one winners’ side semifinal, while Mast faced Kennedy Meyman in the other one. Cutting and Meyman ended up squaring off in the hot seat match and much to the chagrin, and likely, swirling concerns of Cutting, Meyman won it 8-5 and claimed the hot seat.

On the loss side, in the quarterfinals, Mast met up with Skylar Hess in one of the series’ other major rivalries. They fought to double hill before Mast advanced to face Cutting in the semifinals; essentially the match that the two of them had been preparing for all year long. Arguably as significant for Cutting as the finals that would follow, it was the second straight double hill match for Mast. Cutting defeated her, which certainly provided a shot of confidence-adrenaline as Cutting advanced to the finals. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place with a bit of a bang. Cutting accomplished the goal of winning her last major event as a junior competitor by shutting Meyman out in the finals.

Immediately after the match, Cutting couldn’t remember what she thought when she saw that final 9-ball drop into its hole.

“Well, before I even shot the 9-ball, my heart was racing,” she said. “After I shot it, I . . . didn’t think of anything. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’d never been in that kind of a situation before, so. . . maybe tomorrow, I’ll remember.”

Weeks later, she did. And the thoughts that emerged as her heart rate returned to semi-normal, as she returned to her ongoing hectic schedule of pursuing a career and a full-time job, were less about the Championship title itself and more of about its long-term significance.

“I’d made history,” she’d thought to herself in a quiet moment of reflection, away from the lights of the Accu-Stat Arena and the year-long pursuit of a goal, doing something she was good at. “I’d won the very first Junior International Championship. Nobody was ever going to beat that, only tie it.”

Lost somewhat in this profile of her as a player and competitor is the tale of perfectly normal, steadily maturing young woman. A fact upon which her fellow first-time JIC 18 & Under Boys Champion, Landon Hollingsworth noted in the wake of his own victory.

“Tatum was the one of the strongest players I ever played around,” he remarked. “She had a lot more experience than many of the other players, and she was not scared to shoot at anything. A lot of the other girls were somewhat intimidated by her, like ‘Oh, my God, it’s Tatum.’ Except for Sofia (Mast). She didn’t care.”

“Tatum was very outgoing and fun to be around,” he added. “She was very steady, always there, placing well, and she’s a good person to have by your side, cheering you on.”

She wants to a professional pool player – “more than anything,” she said – but at 19 now, this hasn’t stopped her from getting her priorities in order. She is deeply appreciative of the efforts her parents have put into her love of pool and is trying her hardest at this point to move forward on her own.

“School first and job for consistent income,” she said of those priorities. “It’s the adult side of me stepping out, trying my hardest to make it work.”

Hollingsworth caps phenomenal year with undefeated run at JIC 18 & Under Boys final event

Landon Hollingsworth

Tatum Cutting downs hot seat occupant Kennedy Meyman in 18 & Under Girls Final

Greenville, SC’s Landon Hollingsworth is going to find it hard to duplicate this, his 16th year around the sun. Two Billiards Education Foundation Junior National titles, a best-earnings year at the regional tour level that included a victory on the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, a 3rd place finish on that tour that necessitated his victories over former US Open champions Tommy Kennedy and Johnny Archer, a trip to Austria to represent the USA in the World Junior Nationals, a competitor in Pat Fleming’s International Open, and this weekend (Oct. 28-30) an undefeated run through a field of 16 fellow juniors in the 18 & Under Division of the Junior International Championships. And the year’s not over yet.

In his five-match, four-opponent race to the JIC finish line on Saturday, which began last January, Hollingsworth faced and defeated the two opponents he had faced in the two division finals of the BEF Junior Nationals; Riley Adkins in the 18 & Under division and Joey Tate in the 16 & Under division. He got by Adkins in the winners’ side quarterfinal of the JIC 18 & Under Championships, and faced Tate twice, in the hot seat and finals, downing him both times. In between those two, in the winners’ side semifinal of the JIC event, he faced and defeated Nathan Childress, who had entered the final event of the JIC’s 18 & Under Boys division ranked at the top of all of the players who’d been competing since January.

Hollingsworth was pretty much in control from the opening break of the JIC 18 & Under Boys final. Joey Tate broke dry and Hollingsworth ran the table to start things off. He won the second rack on his own break, in spite of giving the table to Tate briefly. And then, things got a bit dicey for a while.

“I started out good,” he said after the match, “but then I missed a ball, Joey got out and the next thing I knew, I was down 4-2.”

He not only “missed a ball,” he scratched in rack three, which allowed Tate to run out and get on the board. Tate broke and ran the next rack, and though he (Tate) would scratch on the break in the next rack, Landon returned the unforced error by rattling the 9-ball in the pocket. Tate executed what seemed at the time to be a momentum-changing bank on the 9-ball to win his third rack and then, broke and ran to tie things at 4-4.

The pivotal point in the match would come, Tate would recall, when he scratched on the break in rack #9 and then, later, “when I missed a shot at a 7-ball and he banked his shot on it and drew back to (set up) the 9-ball.” 

“That,” he said, “was probably the turning point.”

Though Tate would break dry in rack #10 (they each did so only once throughout the match), he was able to play a mid-rack safe that eventually allowed him to knot the match at 5-5, but it was the last rack that he won. Hollingsworth won the next five, breaking and running rack #14 and then, in rack #15, at the end, claiming the 18 & Under Boys title by sinking the 8- and 9-ball simultaneously.

Hollingsworth agreed with Tate’s ‘turning point’ assessment.

“That was probably when I started feeling most comfortable,” he said, “when I got the lead back.”

Throughout all of this 16th year of his, there was something about this particular title that registered strongly with him. Not that he undervalued his Junior National Championships, or his efforts on the Viking Cues’ Q City 9-Ball Tour, or beating Tommy Kennedy and Johnny Archer, it was, for him, about the game(s) he played against his peers.

“Thinking that I’d got here,’ he said about his first thoughts at the end of the match, that with a few upcoming exceptions, would be his last in an 18 and Under division. “That I’d finally done it.”

And he had.

Tatum Cutting

Cutting comes back from hot seat loss to down Meyman in the finals

Like Hollingsworth, Tatum Cutting was playing in her last match as an 18 & Under competitor. The trip to the winners’ circle took a semifinal detour, but Cutting got back on track; in spades, as they say, because not only did she get an opportunity to face Kennedy Meyman (15) a second time, she shut her out in the finals.

The marquee matchup between two of the girls who’d been butting heads since the JIC series happened, but it happened in the event quarterfinals. Skylar Hess and Sophia Mast got sent to the loss side in their winners’ side semifinals, advancing Cutting and Meyman to the hot seat match. Heyman downed Cutting on Friday night 8-5.

On the loss side, Hess beat Precilia Kinsley, Mast eliminated Bethany Tate and the long-awaited Mast/Hess showdown got underway in the subsequent quarterfinals. It went double hill before Mast prevailed, only to be eliminated herself, in a second double hill match, by Cutting.

The final match was not, both girls would admit, how either of them expected it to go. Meyman will have future opportunities competing against other 18 & Under Girls. It was Cutting’s last chance, at least as an 18 & Under Junior. And she made it count. 

Immediately after the match, Cutting couldn’t remember what she thought when she saw that final 9-ball drop into its hole. 

“Well, before I even shot the 9-ball, my heart was racing,” she said. “After I shot it, I . . . didn’t think of anything. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’d never been in that kind of a situation before, so. . . maybe tomorrow, I’ll remember.” 

And so it ended. A year of frequent and often intense junior competition, culminating in a pair of championship final events that will likely linger in the minds of its competitors for many years to come. They’re already looking forward to next year. Stay tuned, as Ra Hanna and his On the Wire Media organization prepare and eventually announce what is likely to be billed as a “bigger and better year” for his groundbreaking Junior International Championships. 

Tate, Childress and Hollingsworth earn entry to International Open at their last JIC event

Landon Hollingsworth, Joey Tate and Nathan Childress

Childress and Cutting win 18 & Under divisions in prelude to Championships

Unlike the young men and women in the 13 & Under divisions of the Junior International Championships, who competed in their final events this past weekend (Sept. 17-19), the young men and women of the JIC’s 18 & Under and ProAm divisions began the weekend knowing that there was more to come. The 18 & Under divisions would be competing in their Championship events on the weekend of Oct. 28-30 at the International Open in Norfolk, VA, while two of the ProAm competitors could look forward to actually competing in the International 9-Ball Open. As it turned out, three ProAm competitors earned entry into the event because Nathan Childress and Landon Hollingsworth tied for second place in the ProAm’s final rankings.

Won by Nathan Childress for the fifth time, the 18 & Under Boys division drew the largest group of competitors (39) to the seven events that were hosted by Wolf’s Den in Roanoke, VA over the long weekend. The ProAm division, won by Landon Hollingsworth (his first, which propelled him into the tie for second place in the rankings) was next in the attendance department with 32 competitors. The 18 & Under girls event drew 14 and saw Tatum Cutting win her third.

The eight events held in the ProAm division since January were designed to accommodate players who had grown out of the two age-specific divisions. The eight events were won by seven different competitors, all of whom, with the exception of Lukas Fracasso-Verner, had not grown out of their age groups. Joey Tate was the only player to win the event twice; in April and August. Fracasso-Verner took the January opener, followed by, in order, Gabriel Martinez, Tate’s first win, Nathan Childress, Ivo Linkin, Cash Keeton, Tate’s second win, and Hollingsworth. 

Hollingsworth, who, through the Pro Am’s first five events, finished, on average, in eighth place, was runner-up in the 6th stop, third in the 7th and won this one to tie Nathan Childress in the division’s rankings and earn entry into the International Open. And he had to work his way through some of the division’s toughest competitors. 

Hollingsworth opened his campaign against the competitor who’d finished third in the 18 & Under rankings, Riley Adkins. He sent Adkins to the loss side 7-4, and then downed Jayce Little 7-2 and Ivo Linkin 7-4, to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Gabriel Martinez. Joey Tate, in the meantime, had gotten by Payne McBride and Ben Kleinfelter, both 7-3 and sent Trenton White over 7-4 to draw Quintin Scott in the other winners’ side semifinal. 

Hollingsworth and Tate locked up in a double hill fight that did eventually send Hollingsworth to the hot seat match. He was joined by Tate, who’d defeated Scott 7-4. Tate claimed the hot seat 7-3 and waited for Hollingsworth to come back from the semifinals, which he did.

In those semifinals, Hollingsworth faced Lazaro Martinez, who’d won three on the loss side, including a double hill win over his brother, Gabriel and a 7-3 win over Riley Adkins in the quarterfinals. Hollingsworth ended Lazaro’s loss-side streak 7-3 and then, downed Tate in the finals 9-5 to claim the ProAm’s 8th title (Editor’s note: The Hollingsworth/Tate rivalry has been going on for a long time and has played a significant role in Hollingsworth’s development and growth as a player. The rivalry will figure prominently in a profile of Hollingsworth to appear in the October issue of our monthly magazine, Billiards Buzz).

Childress cements his 18 & Under rankings with 5th win, while Cutting wins her third to tie Mast

The eight 18 & Under Boys division events have been won by four competitors; one each by Joey Tate, Lazaro Martinez and in his only appearance on the series, Cameron Lawhorne, who won the opener. Nathan Childress has won the other five, and though he opened the series by finishing in fifth place, he’s either won or been the runner-up in every one of the seven events that have followed, which, as you’d expect, has left him way ahead of the pack in the division’s rankings. 

As something of an unintended dramatic gesture, Childress had to start out on the loss side by losing his opening match to Trenton White 7-5. He, then embarked on an eight-match, loss-side winning streak just to face hot seat occupant, Gabriel Martinez. 

White at least had the courtesy to provide evidence that his opening round win was not just an accident and advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Landon Hollingsworth. Gabriel Martinez and Ivo Linkin squared off in the other one. Martinez got into the hot seat match 7-1 over Linkin. Hollingsworth survived a double hill fight versus White to enter his second hot seat match of the weekend. Martinez, though, sent him to the semifinals 7-5.

In those semifinals, Hollingsworth had the misfortune of running into Childress, who was only one step away from a spot in the finals and in his eight loss-side matches had been giving up an average of a little over two racks per match. Childress gave up two more in his battle with Hollingsworth and then let up a little on Martinez in the finals, allowing him three racks in their race to 9 to claim the 18 & Under title.

Casey Cork, Tatum Cutting and Skylar Hess

Tatum Cutting came into the 18 & Under Girls division event, one win behind the division’s rankings leader, Sofia Mast, who was ahead in division victories 3-2. Cutting came into the final event, behind in the division’s rankings by 4,500 points, so unless Mast had failed to show up, she was uncatchable in the division’s rankings. Mast did show up and finished in the tie for 5th/6th. Cutting went on to win the event, coming from the loss side, and in the process, made something of a definitive statement in her single match against Mast.

Mast lost her opening match to Courtney Hairfield 7-5, who followed her over when Cutting downed her in the second round by the same score. Cutting advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Casey Cork, as Skylar Hess and Hayleigh Marion squared off in the other one. 

Hess got into the hot seat match with a 7-4 win over Marion. Cork joined her with a 7-3 win over Cutting. Cork claimed the hot seat 7-3 and waited on what turned out to be Cutting’s return.

On the loss side, Cutting ran right into Mast, who was in the midst of a brief, three-match loss-side winning streak. Marion drew Taylor Perkins, who’d won two in a row on the loss side to reach her. Perkins and Marion locked into a double hill that did, eventually, send Perkins to the quarterfinals. Cutting made her ‘statement’ by shutting Mast out, advancing to meet Perkins.

Cutting chalked up a second straight shutout, over Perkins in the quarterfinals and then downed Hess in the semifinals 7-4. 

There was not really a lot at stake for Casey Cork in the finals of the 18 & Under Girls division. The event would determine which eight would advance to the 18 & Under Girls Championship next month in Norfolk. Sitting in the hot seat, it was already Cork’s best finish among the six events she was able to attend, but she came into the event below the 8-player threshold for the Championship and though it’s unlikely she’d have been calculating this prior to the finals, she had zero chance of catching any of the opponents ahead of her and the best she could do would be runner-up, in which case she’d finish 9th in the rankings.

That’s exactly what happened, but not before Cork had first, downed Cutting in a winners’ side semifinal and then, in their finals rematch, put up a double hill fight versus one of the top two players in the division to record her best showing of the entire series. Cutting completed her third division victory of the series with the 9-8 win.

JIC Tour Director Ra Hanna thanked all of his sponsors for their help in making this event possible, Mike Littman with Littman Lights, Matt Suite at American Billiard Covering, Dynaspheres, Chris Wilson at The League Room, Kory & Trena Wolford from Wolfs Den Billiards and Mike from Michael’s Billiards.

Martinez and Cutting win Junior 9-Ball Open 19 & Under Boys & Girls events in Sacramento

Tatum Cutting

A measure of how much junior competition has grown in just the past year is name recognition. In the early part of this year, even if you were a regular reader here at AZ, you might never have heard of Tatum Cutting, Sofia Mast, Gabriel Martinez or Landon Hollingsworth. Now, with fall just around the corner and some major junior championship events on the horizon, you’re probably recognizing those names. Their current relevance is that the first two (Cutting and Mast) finished as winner & runner-up in the $5,000-added Junior 9-Ball Open for 19 & Under Girls event held at Hard Times Billiards in Sacramento, CA this past weekend (Aug. 14-15). The second two (Martinez & Hollingsworth) finished as winner and runner-up in the $5,000-added boys’ equivalent at the same location. 

In a very small field of young women (seven), the finalists in the 19 & Under Girls event were two of the best junior competitors in the country, Tatum Cutting and Sofia Mast. Each has won two of the six events on the Junior International Championship (JIC) circuit. Cutting was runner-up to Mast twice in those events, while Mast placed 3rd and 4th in Cutting’s two wins. Having attended all six of the JIC events, Mast is currently ranked as #1 in the JIC 18 & Under Girls division. Cutting is third. This time out, it was Cutting who took home the top prize. They faced each other twice; in a double hill opening match and again, in the finals.

Cutting’s initial victory put her into a winners’ side semifinal match against Kennedy Meyman, whom Cutting had faced and defeated in the semifinals of the 3rd JIC event back in April. Savannah Easton and Asia Gillespie squared off in the other one.

Cutting sent Meyman to the loss side 7-3 and in the hot seat match, faced Easton, who’d defeated Gillespie 7-4. Tatum gave up just a single rack to Easton and claimed the hot seat. 

On the loss side, Mast downed Hayleigh Marion 7-2 to pick up Asia Gillespie. Meyman drew Sophia Lua, who’d lost her opening round match to Easton and drawn a loss-side bye to reach Meyman.

Mast downed Gillespie 7-4 and in the quarterfinals, faced Meyman, who’d shut out Lua. Meyman, who won the JIC’s opening event in the 18 & Under Girls division is currently ranked #2 (behind Mast). Mast and Meyman came within a game of double hill, but it was Mast who edged out in front by two to win the quarterfinal 7-5.

Mast then downed Easton 7-4 in the semifinals for a shot at one of her familiar opponents, Cutting, waiting for her in the hot seat. Cutting downed Mast a second time, this time 7-4, to claim the event title. 

Gabriel Martinez

Boys’ field of 17 features top names from BEF Junior Nationals and JIC

The top finishers in the 19 & Under Boys division of this event have figured prominently in both the BEF Junior Nationals and the JIC series. The winner of this event, Gabriel Martinez, finished 4th in the Junior Nationals (16 & Under), is 5th in JIC rankings for 13 & Under Boys (having won two of the six events) and 18th in 18 & Under boys. This event’s runner-up, Landon Hollingsworth, was the winner in two divisions of the Junior National competition (18 & Under and 16 & Under), though he hasn’t performed as well in the JIC series, where, in the 18 & Under division, though he’s competed in all six events, he hasn’t finished better than 5th.  

Adrian Prasad currently leads the pack of 13 & under boys on the JIC ranking list, having won three events in that division and finished in the tie for 7th at this event. Nathan Childress, who finished 4th is the leader on the JIC’s 18 & Under Boys list, having won four of the six events.

In Sacramento, Martinez’ path to the winners’ circle went through Nathan Nunez and Adrian Prasad to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal meetup with Spencer Ladin. Hollingsworth, in the meantime, got by Cody Hill, Payne McBride and his own brother, Cameron Hollingsworth to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal matchup versus Nathan Childress.

Hollingsworth got into the hot seat match with a 7-3 win over Childress. Martinez joined him after surviving a double hill battle versus Ladin. Martinez claimed the hot seat 7-4.

On the loss side, Ladin picked up Andrew Hutchins, who’d just eliminated Cameron Hollingsworth in a double hill fight. Childress drew Lazaro Martinez (whose brother was in the hot seat), who’d recently defeated Adrian Prasad 7-3.

Martinez and Childress battled to double hill before Childress prevailed and advanced to the quarterfinals. He was joined by Ladin, who’d defeated Hutchins 7-3.

Ladin took the quarterfinal match, double hill, to draw Hollingsworth in the semifinals. Hollingsworth won 7-4, earning himself a second shot at Martinez in the hot seat, waiting for him. Martinez completed his undefeated run with a 9-6 win in the finals. 

Tournament director Desiree Dominguez thanked sponsors Predator, Simonis Cloth, Jam Up Apparel, Dunkel Custom Cues, Sacramento Internet Marketing Agency, Molina Mike, Phil Prentice, Aaron’s Pool Parlor (for providing live streaming throughout the event) and Omega Billiards.

New kid on the block, Cash Keeton, wins Pro Am event at Junior International Championships

Cash Keeton

Childress and Cutting win 18 & Under Boys & Girls event, respectively

Nathan Childress and Joey Tate did not get to renew their battle for supremacy in either the Junior National Championships’ Pro Am or 18 & Under Boys division this past weekend (July 16-18) because Joey Tate was unable to compete. Both, however, did retain their positions at the top of the Pro Am division (Childress #1, Tate #2), in spite of the fact that a literal “new kid on the block,” Cash Keeton entered and won his first and only event of these JIC, losing the hot seat to Landon Hollingsworth (#3 in Pro Am division), but returning from the semifinals to defeat him. The victory put Keeton in the 30th slot on the tour rankings. The Pro Am event drew 27 entrants to The League Room in Parkersburg, WV.

Childress did go undefeated in the 18 & Under Boys division to win his 4th straight title in the division. Ivo Linkin was runner-up in this event and moved up to the #5 spot in the division’s rankings. The 18 & Under Boys event drew 36 entrants (same location). In the 18 & Under Girls division, Tatum Cutting won her second title (she won the first in which she competed in March) and edged into third place in the division’s rankings behind Sofia Mast (also with two wins) and Kennedy Meyman (with one). April Gonzales was runner-up in the girls’ event which drew 13 entrants. Mast finished fourth this time out. Meyman finished 9th. 

Keeton’s path to victory in the Pro Am event began against the competitor who was runner-up in the 18 & Under Boys division, Ivo Linkin. Keeton advanced to down Tanner Elliott and Zaiden Leary to draw Kodi Allen in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Allen had sent Nathan Childress to the loss side in the opening round of play. Landon Hollingsworth, in the meantime, after being awarded an opening round bye, defeated Jayce Little and Riley Adkins to draw AJ Weaver in the other winners’ side semifinal. 

Keeton downed Allen 7-5 and in the hot seat match, faced Hollingsworth, who’d sent Weaver west 7-3. Hollingsworth might have been forgiven for thinking “piece of cake” when he gave up only a single rack to Keeton to claim the hot seat. The ‘cake’d come back fresh to challenge him in the finals.

On the loss side, Kodi Allen survived a double hill fight versus Payne McBride, only to be eliminated 7-4 in the quarterfinals by Zaiden Leary, who’d previously defeated Weaver 7-1. Keeton gave up only a single rack to Leary in the semifinals and then downed Hollingsworth in their finals rematch 9-6.

Childress and Cutting go undefeated to claim their respective Boys and Girls titles

The Boys 18 & Under division was the largest of the weekend’s events, drawing 36 entrants. Nathan Childress, after a bye, gave up only five racks in 18 games, versus Jayce Little (0), Dylan Waugh (4) and Eddie Vondereau (1), to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal match against Riley Adkins. Ivo Linkin, in the meantime, had to do some battling to get to the same match. He got by James Kuntz, D’Angelo “Jaws” Spain, Brent Worth and Ben Kleinfelter (aggregate score, including one double hill win, of 28-17) to meet his winners’ side semifinal opponent, Owen Chapple.

Childress marched right into the hot seat match with a shutout over Adkins (#2 to Childress’ #1 in the 18 & Under rankings). He was joined by Linkin, who continued his battles with a double hill win over Chapple. Childress claimed the hot seat 7-2 over Linkin.

On the loss side, Trenton White, who’d lost to Riley Adkins in a winners’ side quarterfinal, defeated Zaiden Leary, Eddie Vondreau and, fresh from the winners’ side, Owen Chapple. He defeated Kodi Allen 7-4 in the quarterfinals, but fell to Linkin 7-5 in the semifinals. Linkin fought Childress to double hill in the finals, but Childress had the last word to claim the 18 & Under Boys title.

Tatum Cutting won four straight matches to claim the 18 & Under Girls title. After a bye, she downed Casey Cork 7-4 to face the division’s top-ranked competitor, Sofia Mast, in the event’s winners’ side semifinal. After a bye, April Gonzales survived an opening round, double hill match versus Kennedy Meyman to arrive at her winners’ side semifinal match against Precilia Kinsley.

Gonzales got into the hot seat match with a 7-3 win over Kinsley. Cutting joined her after sending Mast to the loss side 7-5. Cutting took the first of two against Gonzales 7-2 to claim the hot seat,

On the loss side, Kinsley and Mast both survived double hill matches (versus Hayleigh Marion and Skylar Hess, respectively) to face each other in the quarterfinals. Kinsley advanced 7-5 over Mast, only to be eliminated, in another double hill match, by Gonzales in the semifinals. Cutting downed Gonzales a second time 9-7 in the finals to claim the 18 & Under Girls title. 

On the Wire Creative Media’s Ra Hanna awarded Eddie Vondereau (winner of the 13 & Under Boys event) the Brendan Crockett Sportsmanship Award, while Grayson Vaughn (3rd place in 13 & Under Boys event) the Jeanette Lee “Black Widow” Comeback Award for being down 1-6 in his opening match against 10-year old Hayden Ernst and coming back to beat him ‘on the hill.’ 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, as well as the Pro Am division will coincide with the International Open in Norfolk, VA in October. 

Martinez brothers win two out of five divisions of Junior International Championships

Lazaro and Gabriel Martinez
(Photo courtesy Chris Robinson)

In the second of eight Junior International Championships (JIC), held under the auspices of On the Wire Creative Media at Racks Billiards and Sports Bar in Sanford, FL this past weekend (March 12-14), two brothers – Gabriel and Lazaro Martinez – won two of the five events. The younger Martinez, Gabriel (13), won the Pro/Am event that drew 28 entrants, while the older brother, Lazaro (14) won the 18 & Under Boys event that drew the largest field of entrants (36). Gabriel competed against the 18 & Under Boys, as well, although he was sent to the loss side by his brother in a winners’ side semifinal and eliminated by the eventual runner-up, Nathan Childress, in the event semifinals. Gabriel won the first JIC event in the 13 & Under Boys division and competed in that event this time, as well, although he was sent to the loss side in a winners’ side semifinal match by the eventual winner, Adrian Prasad (who was runner-up to Martinez last time), and later eliminated in his first loss-side match by D’Angelo (Jaws) Spain.

In the female divisions, Ohio’s Tatum Cutting won the 18 & Under event that drew 12 entrants and North Carolina’s Bethany Tate won the 13 & Under division that drew 9 entrants.

There were, in all, 77 entrants and 99 entries, indicative of the fact that more than just the Martinez brothers competed in a number of events at this most recent JIC. The junior competitors are collecting tour points that will be used for seeding in the tour finale, scheduled to coincide with the International Open at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside in Norfolk, VA in October. 

At present, Gabriel Martinez leads the two-event point totals with 10,000 for his two victories. Adrian Prasad is in second place with 9,250 and D’Angelo Spain is in 3rd place with 3,500 points.

As originally designed, the events were broken down into their separate age divisions so that younger players would not have to enter events and face the possibility of competing against older, more experienced opponents and potentially, getting discouraged when they lost, early and often. The reaction to this division by ages surprised On the Wire Creative Media’s Ra Hanna.

“I didn’t want the 13-year-olds to get disappointed,” he said, “but I didn’t realize how much interest the younger kids would have in competing against the older players. They want to play with the big boys.”

“That,” he added, thinking of case-in-point, Gabriel Martinez, “has been fantastic.”

As always, ladies first. The increased opportunities for competition among younger females has not begun to affect the numbers that these junior events are seeing in the female divisions. Neither of the female events which drew 9 and 12 entrants this past weekend, drew as many as the Boys 13 & under (14) and combined, the girls’ events didn’t draw as many as either the Pro Am (28; which included some female competitors) or the Boys 18 & Under (36). That, as players and their parents, begin to become aware of these events, is likely to change.

Tatum Cutting’s undefeated path to the winners’ circle in the Girls 18 & Under event went through Precilia Kinsley, Alana Sanchez and Bethany Tate, with an aggregate score of 21-5, which put her in the hot seat match against Sofia Mast, who’d been awarded an opening round bye and then defeated Kennedy Meyman 7-5 and Savanna Wolford 7-3 to join Cutting. Mast chalked up as many racks against Cutting in the hot seat match as all of her previous opponents, combined, but was sent to the semifinals 7-5. Mast and Bethany Tate fought a double hill battle in those semifinals, both looking for a rematch against Cutting. Tate prevailed, and then fell to Cutting in the finals 9-4.

In the 13 and Under girls’ event, it was the combatants in the 18 & Under semifinals (Bethany Tate and Sofia Mast) who battled twice before Tate claimed the younger girls’ title. Tate had gotten by Skylar Hess and her own sister, Noelle Tate and advanced to the hot seat match. Mast  joined her, following victories over Franki Spain and Gianna Fiore.

Tate claimed the hot seat after a double hill fight. Mast downed Hess 7-5 in the semifinals and returned for a rematch. A second double hill fight ensued and for the second time, Tate prevailed and was able to claim the event title.

One goes undefeated, the other with one loss to claim boys’ titles 

In the 18 & Under Boys division, Nathan Childress and Lazaro Martinez fought twice to claim the title. Martinez had gotten by Riley Adkins, Trenton White, Ivo Linkin and his own brother, Gabriel to arrive at the hot seat match. Childress’ path to the hot seat match went through Conner Scruggs, Hank Leinen, D’Angelo “Jaws” Spain, and, in a double hill fight, Nathan Nunes. 

Martinez downed Childress the first time 7-3. Childress’ semifinal was against Martinez’ younger brother, Gabriel and he just did survive it, double hill, for a second shot against Lazaro. Childress got much closer in the finals, but not close enough, as Martinez finished his undefeated run to claim the Boys’ 18 & Under title 9-7.

In the 13 & Under Boys’ division, it was Adrian Prasad and Harry Leinen battling twice. Leinen had gotten by Iann Nolen, Fred Hill, Jr., and Konnor McFayden to arrive at the hot seat match. Prasad had sent Caleb Chase, Andrew Johnson and Gabriel Martinez to the loss side to face Leinen.

Leinin took the first of their two, 7-4. Prasad returned from a 7-3 semifinal victory over D’Angelo “Jaws” Spain for a rematch. He won that rematch 9-7 to claim the 13 & Under Boys title.

In the mixed gender Pro Am event, 13-year-old Gabriel Martinez had his hands full. He seemed to be getting stronger as he got closer to the finish line. Following a bye, he advanced past Landon Hollingsworth, Brent Worth and Julio Estevez, demonstrating increased success – 7-5, 7-4, 7-2 – to arrive at the hot seat match. Joey Tate, in the meantime, seemed to be showing signs of getting weaker. He got by Cash Lance 7-3, Trenton White 7-2, Lazaro Martinez 7-4 and Kodi Allen 7-5. It was Tate, though, who claimed the hot seat 7-4. 

Gabriel moved west and in the semifinals, faced Justin Toye, who’d sent Gabriel’s brother, Lazaro, to the proverbial showers in the quarterfinals. Gabriel eliminated him 7-3 and got a second shot at Tate.

You could almost see it coming. Two of the most promising juniors in the game faced off in the finals of the mixed-gender, Pro Am finals and battled to double hill. Gabriel Martinez prevailed to earn his second title at the second event on the Junior International Championships calendar.

Ra Hanna thanked the ownership and staff at Racks Billiards and Sports Bar for hosting the event, as well as sponsors Mike Littman of Littman Lights, Dynaspheres and The League Room. He also extended thanks to his tournament director, Corey Wolford and Jay Helfert. The next stop on the Junior International Championships tour, scheduled for April 16-18, will be hosted by Racks on Rocks in Peoria, IL.

(Watch for an extended report on this second JIC event in the upcoming edition of the BUZZ, coming in April, which will include interviews with the participants and their parents about the growth of opportunities for junior players.)