The finals in the team divisions on Saturday, May 17, had a slightly subdued, morning-after air. A pool player's breakfast of lemon-poppyseed muffin, Budweiser tall boy and a pack of Marlboro Lights was lined up at the edge of the finals pit. Several players' luggage was stacked beside their sticks - apparently going straight from the ballroom to the airport, with only a stop at the cash-in desk along the way.
The slightly more relaxed atmosphere suited the easygoing camaraderie of most of the teams - handshakes for the opponents, fist-bumps for the teammates, lots of shouting of "Come on, Richie!" and "Go, Mario!"
The Men's/Mixed Master Team final was an upbeat match between Metro of Blaine, Mich., and Big Tymers of Houston, Texas. The Big Tymers wore plain black shirts, but many displayed glittering diamond rings and gold watches that flashed as they stroked their shots. Metro's shooters favored the classic polo shirt with embroidered bar logo. It was a big match, but the players didn't seem fazed. Metro held firm with a 13-9 victory.
"We brought pretty much the same game we always play," said team member Ty Wilson. "Concentrate on your game, feed off your teammates."
The Metro players had the same celebration plan as many of the day's winners: "Go out for a nice dinner." After a stressful day or two sustained by whatever could be scrounged from a vending machine or food court, what a champion apparently wanted most was a hot meal served on plates at a table without felt.
Over at table 6, the Chicago-area Never Mistresses and the N.P.A. Chix from the Pacific Northwest fought for the Women's Master Team title in a long, suspenseful final. The Chix kept their energy up with nacho cheese Doritos and Pizza Hut edibles, while several of the Mistresses pulled on sweatshirts against the air conditioning's chill. The Mistresses, sporting similar ponytails, turquoise polos, and contemplative yet fierce expressions, finally turned the tide and pulled out a solid 13-8 win in the ultimate set - yet another to victory from the losers bracket.
Team captain Jaqui Schroder savored the tough win. "We really focused on everybody's strong suit. We positioned the people that were doing better off their breaks and things like that. We tried to accentuate everybody's strengths and stay positive." And what now? "Go to dinner," she laughed, "We just want something other than crackers."
The sound of packing tape being stripped off the roll as vendors boxed up their wares resonated as loudly as the clattering breaks. But that did little to mute interest in the hotly anticipated Men's/Mixed Open Team final between Fridley, Minn.-based Slight Breeze No Gust and Detroit-area Hustlin' - featuring men's open singles champ Danny Barnes.
At first, the teams' names seemed to fit their styles. Coming from the winners bracket, Slight Breeze played in a slower-paced, walking-around-the-table manner, while Hustlin' went in for loud breaks and fast shots. But gradually, things on the tables turned. After winning the first set, Hustlin' went into the second with cool efficiency. Their opponents had a few bad breaks, left a few open tables, and the blood was in the water. All that was left was to sink the shots. The 13-7 deciding set was one of the quickest of the finals.
"We just started making shots and we kept making shots," Barnes said, visibly more excited than after his singles win. He added that playing with a team created a higher level of energy.
"But it's also tough, because you don't want to let your teammates down," Barnes said. "We all just play our best and focus on our shots." He turned back toward the tables for another cell-phone victory photo. "It's more fun winning together."
Two tables away, the Women's Open Team final was nearing its conclusion. The matchup was between two teams with delightful 1950s girl-gang names: Kitty's Bad Cats of Phoenix, Ariz., and Texas' Dammit Dolls from the losers bracket. Cats leader Kitty Carroll looked ruefully at the 4 ball that interrupted the line between her cue, the 8 ball and a corner pocket. "Somebody needs to show me that shot," she chuckled, after missing. Her opponent cleared the last four solids and sank the 8. Carroll shook her head, "That's what I get for swearing."
Or maybe not. In the next game, she sank the 8 ball into that same pocket to win the match for the Cats, 11-9.
After the match, friends were hugged, menfolk were kissed and babies were passed around. Carroll beamed amid the amiable chaos.
"It was a long day," she said. "We had to beat eight teams to get here, but we've been undefeated the whole way." Carroll didn't seem to lack energy, though. "We've got two bottles of champagne in the room," she crowed. "After that, chocolate martinis!"
For her part, Noel Campos finally celebrated her win in the women's open singles with a banana split. And with her impending graduation to the master division next year, she knows she'll have to keep her taste for hard work.
"I'm going to practice, practice, practice," Campos said. "And I know I can't make it to the grand master division if I don't do well in the masters. So, I guess the next goal has been set."
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