Forget the cliche of smokey pool halls and jaded players. The game of pool has a fresh new image and a group of young Hamilton players are helping raise its profile.

While New Zealand team members impressed at the recent World Junior Pool Championships in Nebraska, it was the younger Kiwi players who excelled on the final scoreboard.

Competing in the U14 female division, New Zealand players took out the top three spots. Rachael Harwood (12) from Pukekohe High School won first place, beating defending champion Alyxandra Jones (14) from Waikato Diocesan School for Girls  who settled for second place. Also from Waikato Dio was third placed Alyxandra Endres (13).

Overall, the team of 15 New Zealand players brought home three titles of World Pool Champion and 22 trophies and plaques from the VNEA Junior World Pool Championships held in the US in late June.

In total, 15 of New Zealand’s top junior pool players were involved in the competition, The Valley National 8-ball League Association (VNEA) is one of the world’s largest amateur pool leagues.

Ranging in age from 12 to 20 years, the Kiwi team was captained by 17-year-old Avondale College student Deon Rawlings. Deon 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.

“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 Deon.

Waikato Diocesan student Alyxandra Jones likens pool to a slightly more physical game of chess, and 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.”

Bernie Endres, team manager and general manager of cue sports club Massé, says the team is loaded with talent.

Massé provides members equipment and free coaching to help players improve their skills and develop the sport in New Zealand.

“While cue sports has always been strong in New Zealand, it is becoming more diverse,” says Bernie. “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.”

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.

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.

Denise 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. ν