WPA Pool | Champions Ready to Defend at Junior Nationals
WPA Pool | Champions Ready to Defend at Junior Nationals

Dec 22, 2023 | BCA

Champions Ready to Defend at Junior Nationals

By Keith Loria

The Billiard Education Foundation will present the 34th annual Junior National 9-Ball Championships at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas, June 21-25, in conjunction with the BCA Expo.

The event will allow top young cueists to compete for academic scholarships, prizes and an opportunity to represent North America at the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World Junior 9-Ball Championships.

Landon Hollingsworth, from Greenville, South Carolina, will return to the event to defend both his 16UB title and 18UB title.

Below, some of the other defending champions weighed in on their experience last year and what they look forward to most about competing at this year’s event.

Hayleigh Marion 

Last year, Bristol, Virginia’s Hayleigh Marion won the 14UG championship, and the now 15-year-old is looking forward to competing again, though she has aged out of that specific category.

“Unfortunately, I am unable to defend my 14U title this year but, I am coming back stronger than ever to bring back a win for the 16U title,” she says. “Last year for the 16U, I finished in third place and this year I am shooting for the win.”

Nicknamed “Warrior Princess,” Marion is coached by Janet Atwell and calls Borderline Billiards her hometown hall. It was there at the age of 8, that she met WPBA Touring Professional Atwell and picked up a pool cue for the first time. And she hasn’t put it down since!

Marion was noticed by Pechauer custom cues after taking an 8th place finish at the Super Billiards Expo and was quickly offered a place on Team Pechauer at 11 years old. In 2019, she won her first Ladies South Carolina State tournament and played in her first BEF Junior Nationals in 2018 taking second place in New Orleans and the win last year.

“To be a defending champion makes me feel so proud,” Marion says. “It makes me feel like I set a goal for myself and achieved that goal confidently. Makes me feel confident to come in knowing that you can do it and no one can hold you back, it’s just all up to you. I have lots of goals set for myself and that was just the start.”

Her favorite memory of winning last year was all the amazing opportunities that happened afterwards, such as getting to go to Klagenfurt, Austria to play for Team USA.

“That is the very best thing that has ever happened to me,” she says. “Also, seeing my coach posting this amazing video congratulating me on my win at the Junior Nationals—she was in tears and brought me to tears as well. After getting back home, everyone at our pool hall was waiting on me to surprise me and congratulate me on my big win. It was the most amazing feeling ever.”

Harry Leinen 

At 14, and hailing from Waconia, Minnesota, Harry Leinen is the defending 14UB champion.

“I am very excited to get back to Las Vegas and defend my title,” he says. “I am going to practice hard and play hard, just like I always do. I am very proud to be defending champion. There is a lot of great talent at this level and it won’t be easy to defend my title.”

The youngster asked his parents for a pool table for his birthday when he was 10, and the rest is history. He’s quickly become one of the best teens in the world.

During last year’s event, Leinen found himself down 9-5 in the race to 11 and came back and won on the hill, which he says was one of the most exciting times of his life. Another was when he traveled to Austria for the Worlds this past year.

“Austria was amazing,” he says. “I won my first match and then lost my next two matches. Some of my favorite moments were watching the pros play and interacting with them, site seeing, trying different foods and of course spending time with my parents.”

Kennedy Meyman

At 16, White Bear Lake, Minnesota pool player Kennedy Meyman has been playing the sport for about five years, and last year took home the 16UG championship.

“It changes nothing for me,” she says. “I still have to play hard just like everyone else. They are playing for my title and I’m playing to keep it, but we all have the same goal. I am going to work hard and hope to play my best.”

She knows it will take a lot of determination and practice, but she feels she’s capable of playing at that top level and winning again.

“I remember playing good shots, and playing good, but I mostly remember the 9-ball and how it felt to pocket it and finally have the title,” she says. “I felt happy I did it, but more than anything, I felt driven to do better and keep practicing and playing hard.”

Meyman also enjoyed going to Austria for the Worlds, noting it’s nothing like anything she’s ever done before.

“When I walked in for the first time and saw the tables and room, it’s the most unexplainable feeling,” she says. “I played some of my best pool there, it pushed me for this year to play and hopefully get to go to another Junior Worlds. It bettered my game and I am really blessed to have been able to go play and visit the country of Austria.”

Although 19-year-old Aryana Lynch from Allen, Texas has aged out of the tournament, she has fond memories of capturing the 18UG title last year.

“To me, being a champion means more than just how many tournament wins you have,” she says. “Champions are people who don’t let a bad tournament ruin their confidence, but instead it encourages them to find ways to improve their game, as they are always striving to be better. They are experts at perseverance, strategy, and competing under pressure.”

Going into the tournament, Lynch’ goal was to make her last year eligible in BEF as memorable as possible—and she certainly accomplished that with her win.

“I know that I wanted to win, and so I made sure to do whatever it took to bring that to reality,” Lynch says. “I remember the feeling of accomplishment after winning, and running to my parents to give them a hug. They had supported me endlessly throughout my career and so most of all I wanted to win for them. I’m so grateful to have had their support from the beginning and end of my junior career.”

Related Articles

BCA Expo Driving Business for 2024

BCA Expo Driving Business for 2024

By Keith Loria The BCA Billiard & Home Leisure Expo has a successful partnership with the Amusement Expo International (AEI) last year, as the two held two shows under one roof at the Las Vegas...

read more
Interview with April Larson

Interview with April Larson

Throughout its history, the BEF has hosted events by world-renowned players in events around the globe. While emphasizing performance at the table and in the classroom, the BEF recognizes the...

read more
One-on-One with Oscar Dominguez

One-on-One with Oscar Dominguez

Throughout its history, the BEF has hosted events by world-renowned players in events around the globe.  While emphasizing performance at the table and in the classroom, the BEF recognizes the...

read more
WPA Pool | Champions Ready to Defend at Junior Nationals