MINA SAN NICOLAS LEYVA | Reporter
April Larson grabs her pool cue and leans over the 12-foot table with a fierce look. She breaks an opening shot with a powerful follow through.
Whether it is 9 ball or 8 ball, Larson can take on anything and anyone.
Larson, an 18-year-old freshman from Bloomington, Minnesota, is a five-time national champion in the junior leagues, who became a professional pool player just two years ago and has already faced big names in the billiards world. She is known as “The Grinder,” a nickname that Johnny Archer, a famous Team USA coach and professional pool player, gave her for her singular character.
After going to league tournaments with her father while growing up and trying almost every other sport, Larson realized billiards came naturally to her, as she was able to “visualize angles” on the table, she said. On her first junior national championship, she finished second and then won the event five consecutive times.
This year is the last year Larson could compete at a youth level. In 2017, she finished second, and this year she ended up in third place.
“I always felt pressure trying to repeat, which is exactly why I didn’t the last two years; the pressure was a bit too much for me I guess, and my opponents played awesome,” she said.
Her performances at youth nationals earned her a chance to represent the United States multiple times in countries like China, Austria, Russia, Germany and Canada. While being on Team USA, Larson also competed in the Women’s Professional Billiards Association tour, where she has been able to create a name for herself.
“It feels amazing to play against my heroes,” Larson said. “Since the first time I picked up a pool cue that is all I ever wanted; it’s truly a dream come true.”
The Junior World Championships will take place in Russia this year, and Larson said she is looking for vengeance. She has already been a bronze medalist, but the ultimate goal is to win worlds this year.
“For the first three or four years I would only win a match, and it was super frustrating, and then I got on the pro tour, where players were 10 times better and [it] shaped my mental game,” she said.
Larson said she already knew a decade ago that she wanted to attend Lindenwood. Many youth billiards players from all over the country have gone through the university’s program and gone to play professionally. Lindenwood University is one of the first colleges to invest in a program and a pool arena with professional tables.
“We all want to play billiards during our college life, and there is no better place than here,” Larson said.
Head billiards coach Mark Wilson is creating a conference that will take off this semester with teams from the Midwest joining to compete against the Lions, but Larson sees competition in a very special way.
“I want to play my best, and I also want to be able to spread the love for the game,” Larson said. “If they don’t play as much, I want to be able to help them and teach them, not only beat them and leave.”
During a competition, Larson is focused and aggressive, but when she is not holding a pool cue she likes to make people smile.
“April is one of those special billiards talents that possesses a unique and refreshing approach to the sport and life,” Wilson said. “She not only plays great but makes everyone around her better based on her attitude.”
In the Lindenwood Billiards Arena, the team acts like a family and supports each other. Wilson said everyone on the team would put up a fight to defend Larson. But Larson’s billiards family is not limited only to her teammates. Joe Pechauer, owner and president of JPechauer custom cues, is Larson’s cue sponsor.
“What you see is what you get,” Pechauer said. “I think she is one of the most genuine people, and we are best friends and I think the world of her.”
As successful as Larson has been in her billiards career, Pechauer wants to see her excel at school as well, as it is the most important thing going on in her life,
“I am not concerned about her making appearances just because I sponsor her; I just want her to do her best in school,” Pechauer said.
Larson is majoring in finance and practices Tuesday through Thursday for two hours and then goes back at night to the arena to do a few drills. Larson said she enjoys watching horror films and sleeping whenever she is not at the arena.
Next in Larson’s agenda is the Atlantic Challenge Cup, a 9-ball tournament between Team USA and Team Europe. The European squad has won the tournament eight years in a row.
Larson will compete for the fourth time and will travel to Las Vegas to try and end Europe’s winning streak with five other teammates from throughout the United States. Larson was selected to this tournament based on her performances and nominations that her sponsors, players and clubs have made.
“We are going to train with Lindenwood and see if we can break the streak and what changes we can make,” Larson said. “We are in for a ride, it’s going to be fun for sure.”