2016 Atlantic Challenge Cup U.S. Team Bios

Meet the 10 U.S. Team Players of the 2016 Atlantic Challenge Cup

We could not be more thrilled with this year’s U.S. Team! From the pool of 30 nominees, these 10 individuals were selected based on their abilities at the table as well as their academic achievements.

STARTERS

Ricky Evans

Age 15 (St. Peters, MO)
Current Grade: 9th
Current GPA: 3.7

Ricky EvansPool has always been a great and big part of my life. My dad has owned a pool hall since I was born and have always had access to play competitively or just for fun. When I first started to play I realized that I was actually pretty good at it (this being around age 7). My dad also saw my talent and decided to instruct me as well as he knew. From there I was introduced into the pool world. My dad decided I was ready to play competitively so I started entering tournaments here and there and practicing as much as possible with long nights at the pool hall. A few years past and I’ve won many notable awards and am well on my way to becoming a junior champion.

Ryan Ponton

Age 19 (Bradley, IL)
Current Grade: College Freshman
Current GPA: 4.0

ponton, ryanSince I was about three years old, pool has played a major role in my life. From the very beginning I learned the simple things, such as numbers and colors just from rolling balls around on the table in my free time. Obviously, I was not tall enough to reach the table so I would spend countless hours dragging around a bench almost as big as I was. Aside from it being an integral part in my learning, it was also a way for me to bond with my dad. I would always sit around and watch him and my grandpa play waiting for my opportunity that would one day come. When it did, I used it as a way to be closer to my dad. Eventually, that evolved into our yearly trip to the Derby City Classic. I have had some of the best times of my life on this trip and would not trade them for the world. From these competitive adventures, I have learned some very important skills throughout. Some of these include sportsmanship, humility, and how to think through problems on and off the table. Not to mention I have met so many amazing people through the game of pool. People who are not a part of the pool world truly are blind to the community we have as a whole where everyone is connected in some way, shape, or form. The sport of pocket billiards really has helped me to grow as an individual throughout the years and I look forward to having many more amazing experiences in the upcoming years.

Christopher Robinson

Age 19 (Ventura, CA)
Current Grade: 12th
Current GPA: 3.6

robinson, chrisI started playing pool at the age of 14. Starting off with small, local tournaments and practicing every day in Ventura, CA. Then after about six to eight months playing, I played in my first big tournament at the prestigious Hardtimes Billiards in Bellflower, CA about an hour and a half away from my home town. In a 91 player field, I finished one out of the money losing to a local pro Dave Hemmah. In 2013 I played in the BEF Junior Nationals, only playing for about a year and a half, in the 18 and under division and ended up finishing 9th-12th losing to Zach Hampton and Nick Evans. In 2014, I had a big year placing in most tournaments I played in, including the Jay Swanson Memorial even held at Hardtimes Billiards in Bellflower, CA, with which I finished 13th out of 192 players. Then followed that up by going to the 2014 BEF Junior Nationals in Louisville Kentucky and didn’t end up playing too well, winning one match and losing two. Even more determined to win Nationals, I came out of Kentucky with one goal and one goal only, to win the 2015 Junior Nationals. Leading up to the tournament I played in all kinds of tournaments against semi pros and pros that molded me into a solid player that won the 2015 BEF Junior Nationals, and the Hardtimes first of the month tournament. Rodney Morris placed 3rd in the first of the month tournament I won in July of 2015. So for winning Nationals, I had the chance to compete in Shanghai, China to represent my country in the 2015 World Junior 9-Ball Championships in which I placed 9th-12th out of 32 and was the highest finishing American along with April Larson, who finished 9th-12th in the girl’s division. Now I play 3-5 hours a day at Stiix Billiards in Ventura, CA to stay sharp and get better while still playing in all the tournaments I can get in to get better and get that much needed experience I’m going to need for the Atlantic Cup. My goal is to be the most prepared player I can be in order to represent my hard work and my country in the Atlantic Cup!

Shane Wolford

Age 17 (Troutville, VA)
Current Grade: 10th
Current GPA: 3.87

wolford, shaneBilliards has been a huge part of my life since I was very young. My parents have played league ever since I can remember. I have been interested in the game since I was six years old. I started competing around the age of 9 playing in local tournaments and then moved on to the Super Billiards Expo and then Junior Nationals. I started playing in league around age 13 where I held MVP for 7 Handicap in TAP both years I played. I also progressed very quickly in BCA. Billiards is a way of life for my family, we are very supportive of each other. If I am playing in a tournament, my parents, my sister and grandparents are always there no matter how far away from home the tournament is I always have a cheering section. When my parents are playing their league tournaments I am always there. Billiards has helped my make a lot of friends around the country, I have also been lucky enough to meet some of the best players in the world. My life without billiards would be a very sad one.

Serena Black

Age 18 (Warrensburg, IL)
Current Grade: 12th
Current GPA: 4.0+ (4.763 AP Adjusted)

black, serenaWhen I was younger, my father used to read me a book called “The Little Engine That Could.” I never really thought deeply about the tale until I was standing at the table in the semifinals of a national championship and my opponent needed four balls to my thirty-six. I thought about a lot in those short moments, mainly about how frustrated I was going to be when I lost before the finals. Somewhere in between my opponent’s great run outs and getting off my pity pot I remembered how the protagonist had defied the audience’s nonexistent expectations. A little engine who said “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” eventually accomplished his goals. With that in mind, before I knew it 2 balls had become 12, 12 had become 20, and I beat my opponent with two run outs and a great safety. When that last ball dropped and I locked myself into the finals, I realized that little engine had introduced me to the value of optimism and hard work. “I think I can” had finally become “I knew I could.” I have had such a great experience in the billiards industry. I have met many neat people, accomplished great things, and made a difference within myself. I first began competing in pool when I was around 12 years old. Since then I have claimed multiple state and national titles. My most awe-inspiring moment would be the weekend of the APA junior championships when I went undefeated in four events, totaling over 30 matches in all.

Over the past couple of years, I have placed the primary focus of my efforts on reaching my fullest potential in every aspect of the game. I have been fortunate to achieve several accomplishments during this time, but I have learned and grown most through dealing with the obstacles encountered along the journey.

April Larson

Age 16 (Bloomington, MN)
Current Grade: 10th
Current GPA: 3.8
2015 Atlantic Challenge Cup Team U.S.A. MVP

larson, aprilMy life with the sport of billiards has been crazy. The kind of crazy that makes me want to play every second of every day. The kind of crazy that makes me love the game even more the more I play it. Last but not least, the kind of crazy that makes me forget what life was like when I wasn’t involved with the sport. I am so honored to have been on the Atlantic Challenge Cup for team USA last year. I’ll never forget the nerves, the pressure and the silence that came before I shot every nine-ball. I don’t think anyone truly understands what it feels like to be playing for your country against an opponent who is playing for their country as well and who is just as hungry for the win as they are until they are standing there shaking the referee’s hand and their opponent’s hand getting ready for one of the biggest matches of their lives. It is truly the most incredible feeling one could ever get. I’m getting chills just remembering my experience there. I know team USA can win this. We were so close to winning last year and there is no one out there hungrier to take that cup from Europe and place it where it should be and where it belongs which is here in America than me. I would give my all and my everything to get my revenge and get the victory for team USA.

ALTERNATES

Zachary Gurganus

Age 19 (Marietta, GA)
Current Grade: 12th
Current GPA: 3.3

gurganus, zachPool makes my life exciting. When I am playing a match and the adrenaline kicks in, there is no better feeling. When I get in stroke it feels like I can’t be beat, but that’s the great thing about pool; anyone can be beat because there is always someone better on any given day. Pool is a very humbling sport for that reason alone. I could be on the hill and my opponent needs three or four games and I still lose. Everything about the game is interesting to me. I love working with different English and studying patterns. Pool helps me in everyday life too. Running out a rack requires thinking several balls ahead, or even working backwards from a certain ball, whereas solving an equation requires the same kind of thinking. In pool you have to judge the reaction of the cue ball when it hits the object ball. Pool is what I’m thinking about on a regular basis so naturally I relate everything to pool. Without the game I would not be who I am today. Relatively I’m shy, but not when I’m in a pool room or in a tournament. Pool truly brings out the best in me and I can’t image where I would be today without it.

Tyler Howell

Age 19 (Davenport, IA)
Current Grade: College Freshman
Current GPA: 3.5

howell, tylerI can honestly say pool has changed my life. It has granted me new friends, connections and so forth. All of my practice I’ve put in these last few years has brought me farther than most people have in their entire lives and it shows with all of the titles I have earned. I know for a fact this year I would be the perfect player for the Atlantic Cup Challenge.

Sierra Reams

Age 18 (Richmond, VA)
Current Grade: 12th
Current GPA: 4.0

reams, sierraUp to this point in my “career” I had two major points where I came extremely close to the Junior World Championships. I had it set in my mind that 2015 was definitely my year to make it there. Last year I started traveling to more tournaments on my own, thinking harder about strategy, and over all putting in more time on the table. By August of last year, I thought that I was more prepared than I had ever been. Once I arrived at the venue, I experienced my personal worst. I went two and out. The same day I started getting Facebook messages from random people telling me how horrible of a player I was. This was my turning point. I realized what I was doing wrong: I gave up too easily. That loss gave me the heart I needed to start winning. Since August, everything about my game has improved. I’ve stepped up my mental game, started playing almost every day of the week, and gained more confidence than I’ve ever had. Ultimately, I’m really that happy I lost.

Emily Herpel

Age 16 (Freehold, NY)
Current Grade: 11th
Current GPA: 3.0

herpel, emilyI have been playing pool since I was 6 years old when we first got our table in our house. I soon started competing in tournaments in 2011. I guess I play pool because I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. It’s like an instinct to me, no matter what mood I’m in I just want to play. Since I was young I have been constantly setting myself goals within the game of pool and I want to be able to achieve as many of those goals as I can. But to put it simply, I play because I love the game and I just want to continue to push myself and to learn as much as possible about the game. I spend hours a week practicing while still keeping up with all my school work. Playing pool has allowed me to create new memories, meet countless new people, and allow me to constantly do what I love.

Congratulations to all the Nominees! It was a tough field to select from this year but our U.S. Selection Committee did an amazing job!

Semi-Finalists

Nathan Childress, age 14 (North Chesterfield, VA)
Josh Franklin, age 19 (Creve Coeur, IL)
Tristan Hansen, age 13 (Manko, MN)
Samuel Hoffman, age 16 (Hillsborough, NJ)
Kaiden Hunkins, age 14 (Waukesha, WI)
Jacob Watson, age 19 (Tyler, TX)
Ashley Fullerton, age 14 (Lake Park, MN)
Taylor Hansen, age 18 (Mankato, MN)
Hannah Hohn, age 18 (Ethan, SD)
Michelle Jiang, age 16 (Harvard, MA)

Nominees

Coen Bell, age 12
River Burke, age 19 (Andalusia, IL)
Nathan Diederich, age 18 (Victorville, CA)
Lukas Fracasso-Verner, age 15 (Wallingford, CT)
Nickolas Kline, age 19 (Prescott Valley, AZ)
Charles Marshall, Jr, age 13 (Gilbertsville, PA)
Manuel Perez, age 18 (Overland Park, KS)
Daniel Sardoncillo, age 16 (Puyallup, WA)
Madison Bond, age 18 (Des Moines, IA)
Hailey Fullerton, age 16 (Lake Park, MN)
Savanna Wolford, age 13 (Troutville, VA)

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