Pool players keep focus in Hawkeye Pool League

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 08, 2014 5:00 AM

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Some of the top pool players in Iowa City are taking advantage of the Hawkeye Pool League to keep their games sharp.

While the league is less competitive than those that start after Labor Day, it still offers valuable preparation for the upcoming season.

“What this league provides is good practice,” Kris Duncan said. “It will be helpful when the fall and spring leagues come around.”

Duncan’s teammate Trishia Slade values the learning experience the league provides. Although she has played since she was 19, she always observes how others play the game.

And unlike the fall and spring leagues, this one is mixed between men and women.

“There are so many great players in this league who we can learn a lot from,” Slade said. “As a woman, playing the men and learning their strategy makes my game more versatile.”

During the fall and spring, their team plays for the Hilltop Tavern, 1100 N. Dodge St. To say it has been successful would be an understatement. There are three levels — listed in increasing difficulty — that teams are placed into based on skill: level 2, level 1, and masters. After winning the state championship for American Cue Sports in 2012, the team was bumped up to level one. Since winning at level 1 last year, it has been placed in masters.

“Winning at level 1 was the biggest accomplishment of my life,” team member Cindy Clark said.

The Hawkeye Pool League has no shortage of high-caliber players.

“All of the best players in Iowa City are here for the summer league,” Clark said.

Fred Riffer plays for the Grinders of the First Avenue Club. It won both the Valley State Tournament and the Iowa State Players Association Tournament in 2011.

“This for sure is more low-key than in the fall,” Riffer said. “But it’s like any sport — the more you play, the better you get.”

Beside off-season practice, the Hawkeye Pool League also offers a chance to qualify for state tournaments. Players need a minimum number of weeks played to qualify, which they usually fulfill in the summer.

“One of the reasons for the big turnout is that this league is sanctioned and can qualify you for three state tournaments,” saie Brett Elder, who runs the league along with Steve Barnes.

The Iowa State Players Association, American Cue Sports, and the Iowa Amusement and Music Operators Association are the tournaments that recognize the Hawkeye Pool League as a qualifying entity. Each requires a different number of weeks played — usually between four and eight — for individuals to qualify.

“In the meantime, it gives you the competition, but in the big picture, it allows us to qualify for state tournaments,” said Barnes, whose team has finished as high as fifth in state.

There are typically between 150 to 200 teams in a state tournament for  eight ball, along with 400 to 500 people playing individually. The Hawkeye Pool League is much smaller and less competitive, but there is no doubt it has some of the state’s best players.

“This is where the really focused players come to stay focused year round,” Clark said.

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