LAKE JACKSON — Coming together just four and a half months ago, billiard players Tanya Crain, Gena Kuchar, Leah Hardesty and Susan Largent will compete in the 2019 World Pool American Poolplayers Association 8-Ball Championships starting at 8 a.m. today in Las Vegas.
Competing as the Texas Stars, the foursome hopes to leave Sin City with more money than they arrive with, aiming for the $10,000 top prize from the $51,200 prize pool.
“We would love to win some big money, but just the fact that we got to this point is an accomplishment,” Hardesty said.
The path to Vegas started with a major hiccup. The Texas Stars formed as a five-person team with Lisa Woods the intended captain. They signed up for a qualifier at Back Alley in Angleton when a problem emerged and they had to leave Woods off the roster.
“Lisa wasn’t qualified because she wasn’t playing on an 8-ball roster, she was only playing on a 9-ball team at the time,” Crain said. “So when we got to the Las Vegas qualifier back in March, Lisa couldn’t compete with us.”
With four players, Texas Stars rolled through the competition without a loss to advance to the Worlds at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino.
“At that qualifier, we went undefeated in the winners bracket, going 4-0,” Crain said. “Total, we went 9-0 in games and we just played fantastic at all levels. Since then, we’ve just been practicing every day and we’ve been competing at tournaments. We’ve stayed busy by playing every weekend.”
While Texas Stars is short of the five-player maximum, the tournament is three against three with two alternates, so it will have enough competitors for the 256-team field.
Crain, Kuchar, Hardesty and Largent have known each other for a while, but never had teamed together.
“We are all friends and hang out together and we all play league on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and on the weekends we play tournaments,” Crain said.
A Lake Jackson resident, Crain got her start back in the 1970s when accompanying her grandparents to the VFW as an 11-year-old.
“My grandparents were always at the VFW and we would go after school, my brother and I, and we would play just to stay busy,” Crain said. “Competitively, I’ve been playing for the past seven years, and I used to be a bundle of nerves when I first started that. But now I am the anchor because nerves don’t get to me anymore.”
The elder statesman of the group is Freeport’s Hardesty, who got her start watching her professional husband play in tournaments.
“I was always with my husband, and probably around the mid-’80s, I just got interested in playing instead of just watching,” Hardesty said. “While I have learned a lot from my husband, I tend to be unable to block everything around me. That is my problem, like the noise around a game and with what people are saying. I still have that problem today.”
Kuchar played competitively for the first time in 2015 off an invitation by a cousin to play on a team. Kuchar, has been playing the game since her father taught her at a young age.
“When I played in 2015, I couldn’t make a shot because I was nervous and scared,” Kuchar said. “But by me just watching everyone else that was pretty good, I learned how to shoot some of those difficult shots. Now I just love the competition and I enjoy beating the big dogs. I get lucky every now and again.”
Largent has been on a fast track to catch up to the others as she just started playing competitively two years ago.
“I played when I was a teenager, but when I heard that there was a league, I started playing 9-ball and I was terrible,” Largent said. “I never knew that there was more than just hitting the ball. But I played on a good team that liked to coach new players. Then I added the 8-ball game and would play once a week. My game got better, and every once in a while I’d get pointers from these guys who had been playing a long time. So I learned how to play defensively because of them.”
Hardesty and Largent will make their debut in Las Vegas, while Crain and Kuchar have competed in big tournaments before.
“As long as we stay focused and play the table instead of the opponent, we should do well,” Kucher said.