Fifteen of New Zealand’s top junior pool players are heading to the United States to compete at the VNEA Junior World Pool Championships.
The Valley National 8-ball League Association (VNEA) is one of the world’s largest amateur pool leagues.
The New Zealand players, who range from 12 to 20 years, have qualified for the tournament and will compete in Sioux City, Nebraska in late June.
Bernie Endres, team manager and general manager of cue sports club Massé, says the team is loaded with talent and has the potential to take out the top spots during competition week on 21 – 24 June.
The team is captained by 17-year-old Avondale College student Deon Rawlings won the Under 18 Male 8 Ball Singles title in 2016 and was part of the New Zealand team who won the Under 18 team title in 2017.
Rawlings is looking forward to returning to the competition and seeing friends from last year. He’s keen to make an impact on the international stage saying, “I want to show the rest of the competition that I mean business.”
“Pool is a great sport to be a part of because it does not rely on physical capability. This means that no matter who you are, you can be great at this game,” says Rawlings.
The team also features 17-year-old New Plymouth Boys’ High School student Mario Hildred who was recently crowned the Oceania Under 21 Singles Snooker Champion and 14-year-old Waikato Diocesan School for Girls student Alyxandra Jones who is the reigning Under 14 Female 8 Ball Singles champion.
“There’s a lot more pressure this time around because last year I didn’t go with any expectations,” says Jones. “It’s a bit more competitive this time.”
Jones, who likens pool to a slightly more physical game of chess, says that gender and age are no factor in the sport with mental focus making the greatest difference.
“You can be male, female, young or old, or in a wheelchair and still play. As long as you can see over the table, you’re all good,” says Jones.
Massé provides members equipment and free coaching to help players improve their skills and develop the sport in New Zealand.
Endres says while cue sports has always been strong in New Zealand, it is becoming more diverse. The club has more than 13,000 members, of whom about half are women and many of those are juniors.
“Pool is a sport that seems to fly under the radar but it seems the current members see the value in it and are spreading the word. The sport teaches you skills that are transferable off the table such as self-discipline and patience.
“As a club that has produced several world champions over the years, we’re proud to keep providing our players with the equipment, environment and resources they need to compete at the highest level.”
The junior team has been preparing for the championship over the past year under the guidance of coach Jimmy Henry. They’ve also had sessions with sports psychologist Jason Yuill-Proctor, from High Performance Sport New Zealand, who has worked with many of the country’s elite sports people and teams.
The Kiwi juniors will compete against nearly 300 players in Sioux City in a variety of disciplines including singles, scotch doubles and teams competitions.
As part of its commitment to grow world-class players, Masse supports all 15 competitors in the VNEA World Pool Championships with uniforms, flights, accommodation, and tournament entry fees.
The senior team recently returned from the 38th Annual VNEA World Pool Championships with several accolades.
Hamilton’s Denise Wilkinson won the Women’s 8 Ball Singles and was runner up in the Women’s 9 Ball Singles. She was also named in the Women’s All Star Team, meaning she was one of the top four female players of the championship. Wilkinson was also part of the Women’s 8 Ball team, the Southern Stars alongside Brooque Pologa (23), Kimberley Cullen (41), and Agnes Kimura (43), who won the title over Canada.
Auckland’s John Harrison came runner up in the Men’s 8 Ball Singles and was also part of the men’s team who finished fifth out of nearly 350 international teams.
A full list of the junior New Zealand team can be found on Masse’s website - masse.co.nz.
PICTURED ABOVE: Avondale College student Deon Rawlings (17) is gearing up to compete at the VNEA Junior World Pool Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.