World 10-Ball Junior Championships

The 2007 World 10-Ball Champions Yu-Ram Cha, Shane Van Boening and Hayato Hijikata

The first ever Junior World 10-Ball Championships was held at Bankshot Billiards in Jacksonville Florida alongside the pro version of the World 10-Ball Championships. The juniors in the event were top notch and traveled far for the event. Sixteen boys were invited for the Boys Division and eight girls for the Girls Division. Age requirement was 19 years old and under. The event was produced by Dragon Promotions.

Industry leaders such as Ivan Lee of Simonis Cloth, Skip Nemecek of Master Chalk & Tweeten Fibre, Cindy Lee of Dragon Promotions, and Philippe Singer of Predator Cues were primary forces behind this junior program. Other sponsor supporters included Brunswick Billiards, Cue & Case,,,, , Instroke Cases, and longtime supporter Rocky McElroy of Capones Billiards. Special thanks to Larry Giles for Tournament Directing The World Junior 10-Ball Championships.

The Boys Division included heavy favorite John Morra(18) of Canada alongside a close call favorite Hayato Hijikata(18) of Japan. Other top notch juniors were Mike Dechane(19) of Maine, Michael Tosado of New York City, Ryan Behnke(18) of Iowa, and 2x Southeast Junior Champ Landon Shuffett(12). New international comers Asher Le(12) of Vietnam, Kevin Sun of China/USA, and German Junior Champion Fabian Breuer(18). Other US hopefuls were Adam Behnke(16) of Iowa, Nick Tafoya(16) of New Mexico, Schuyler Woodward(14) of Kentucky, Brandon Williams of Ohio, Nick Sahely of Florida, Tommy Najar(19) of New Mexico, and Adam Tanner (14) of New York.

The Girls Divisions was jam packed with talent and experience with top favorites Anna Kostanian(19) of New Mexico who is the reigning US Junior Champion and WPBA #19 ranked and also Yu Ram Cha(19) of Korea who is the #1 Ranked Womens Player in Korea and winner of the televised Korea Pro Tour Championships. US Hopefuls former USA junior champ Chelsea Hardwick(15) and her sister Allison Hardwick(17) who is a 2-Time 3rd Place finisher at the US Junior Championships, and Liz Lovely(14) reigning US 14 & Under Champion. Spain's 3 years running Woman's Pro Champion Amalia Matas(18), Taiwan's Angela Ger, and Korea's #2 Pro Eun Ji Park(18) rounded out the field.

The format was identical for Boys and Girls with a race to 7 games alternate break. Players racked their own balls with the 10-Ball on break not counting if made. Same rules as the pros. The first round saw Morra being upset 7-5 against Ryan Behnke. Behnke came out firing and played fearlessly. Landon Shuffett drew the very tough 19 year old Dechane, who previously won the Super Billiards Expo Junior Event two times. Shuffett could not handle the older and more experienced Dechane. Hijikata easily defeated Woodward his first match and then Europe's hopeful Breuer to make the final 8 players. In the re-draw, the players were seeded to their records of matches won, games won, and games lost. In the final 8, Morra got a re-match with Behnke who defeated him earlier. Again Behnke looked to dominate the match with a 2-0 lead, but missed an opportunity to mae it 3-0 which Morra took advantage of and won a decisive 7-3 using his experience on the pro tour scene.

The juniors were taken into the main pro arena where they would duke it out for the fans center stage.The semi-finalist match ups were John Morra(CAN) versus Michael Dechane(USA) and Hayato Hijikata(JPN) versus Fabian Breuer(GER). Many fans were antipating a Morra against Hijikata finals, but both juniors had their work cut out for them first. With a USA Boys Junior never winning a World Championship event, Dechane carried a heavy burden and Morra won the match 7-4. Meanwhile, Hijikata and Breuer played a magnificent match with neither player giving up an edge, but Hijikata winning with a brilliant two way safety and shot making a carom/kick shot on the 10-Ball off the 1-Ball to win 7-6.

"I was so nervous!" said the friendly and soft spoken Japanese Champion.

On the young ladies side, Kostanian made quick work of her opponents including Park of Korea to advance to the semi-finals. Cha (KOR) won her first match but had a detour with the surprising steady play of Matas(SPN) and lost 7-5. Cha regrouped with a 7-1 drubbing of her roomate Park to advance in the semi-finals with a re-match with Matas. Kostanian defeated Lovely 7-3 to reach the finals unscathed while Cha seemed to hit a high gear and overcame inner demons and a 2-0 deficit to defeat Matas 7-3.

The finals for the both divisions took place at the same time next to the Pro Division of the World 10-Ball Championships. The juniors were placed at center court while the pros took the back tables. Parents, fans, and sponsors seemed more excited at the moment at watching the juniors play for the World Title.

"What? They let Morra play in this? Wow, easy money!" speculated Alex Pagulayan before the tournament who may have underestimated the talent of the field. Morra, who finsihed 2nd Place at the Turningstone Casino event losing to Archer, would lose two times to two separate junior players during the 10-Ball event.

In the finals, Hijikata took the early lead against Morra and never looked back. Though Morra played sound and minor errors, Hijikata played with strong professional prowness that has earned him a top 16 ranking in Japan's Pro Tour. Hijikata gave Japan their first World Pool Title in almost a decade and their only second one in history.

"I am very happy. Thank you so much!" said the humble Hijikata.

Dechane and Breuer played for the Bronze while Lovely and Matas matched up for the Girls Bronze. Breuer came out on top while Matas defeated Lovely.

The Girls Finals also would be the anticipated match up of the top two favorites. Kostanian, who has been making waves on the WPBA with her play, would be taking her last shot at a Junior World Title after losing hill-hill at the World 9-Ball Juniors. Cha, who also played in the World 9-Ball Juniors, would be taking her last year of eligibility and also a chance at her first World Title. Though both girls wanted to win badly, it was Cha who seemed on the high gear playing near perfect with great offense, smart safeties, and controlled cueball movements. "I can't believe how strong that girl is. She can really play!" one onlooker said in amazement. Anna had no answer for Cha and succumbed 7-3 to the Korean sensation.

"Yesterday I did not play well. Today I feel like I'm playing my top level and I feel like I'm flying," said Cha smiling ear to ear.

Trophies were awarded to the two winners and medals for Gold, Silver, and Bronze were presented. The audience rose for Japan's national anthem in honor of new World 10-Ball Junior Champion Hayato Hijikata. Afterwards, the audience remained standing for Korea's national anthem in honor of Yu Ram Cha, Korea's first World Junior Pool Champion. Hijikata won $1500 ,a Predator Cue, and a free entry and invitation to the next US Pro Tour Championship. Cha won $1000, a Predator Cue, and free entry fee and invite to next year's World 10-Ball Championship Pro division.

"Watching these kids is so impressive. They all act and conduct themselves so professionally" observed Cindy Lee, Dragon Promotions President.

"As a former junior player, I know how it feels to think no one cares about you. There's alot of companies in the industry that say they are all for junior programs but it's disappointing to see them not really getting behind the events that promote junior growth. I hope we get more support in upcoming years because it will only hurt the industry and our sport later if nothing is done now." said Charlie Williams, former US Junior Champion and engineer of the World Junior 10-Ball Championships. "But I am happy that we have a handful of companies that really care. I'd like to see us grow from there."

"I believe that it is critical to support junior programs because the juniors represent the future of the sport. Iwan Simonis is proud to sponsor the World Junior 10-Ball Championships and allow these talented junior players the opportunity to showcase thier skill on the truest playing cloth. - Ivan Lee, President of Simonis Cloth North America.

Photo courtesy of Takao Takayama -