Tryouts for the Lawrence High School girls basketball team were Wednesday afternoon, and Taylor Reynolds made the varsity team. The basketball community knows Reynolds as a junior guard with above-average quickness and the ability to play strong defense, which could be key as the Bulldogs contend for the Eastern A title. The pool community knows Reynolds as a girl who will be graduating high school a year early, in part because she is one of the best young pool players in the United States.
Just after the basketball regular season begins, Reynolds will be flying with her mother, Tammy, to Johannesburg, South Africa, where she will compete in the WPA (World Pool-Billiard Association) World Junior 9-Ball Championships. Reynolds was one of 16 girls invited to the tournament, which is for players 18 and under. The tournament runs Dec. 9-12.
Tammy and her husband, Steve, own TJ’s Classic Billiards in Waterville. Taylor, 16, got exposed to the sport early, and just kept playing. She has a sponsor, J. Pechauer, who gave her a new pool cue in time for last year’s Junior Nationals.
“They just made me a new cue about a year ago,” Taylor said. “It’s awesome.”
Taylor lost in the finals of the Junior Nationals the last two years to Briana Miller, who Steve calls, “hands-down, the best up-and-coming female player in the country.” Miller opted to take her final exams in college rather than compete at the Worlds, guaranteeing a spot for Taylor.
Taylor has beaten Miller before — she knocked Miller into the loser’s bracket at the 2012 Junior Nationals — and thinks she has the ability to compete with anyone in the field.
“Obviously, it’s a really hard tournament to win, but I’ve been there before,” Taylor said. “In 2011, I went to Poland for the Junior World Championships. A lot of these tournaments isn’t so much who’s the best player, but who can handle the pressure better, and who can adjust to the equipment and the surroundings. It’s a big expectation to win it, but I think everyone wants to win it, right? And I think we’re all about the same speed.”
Several local businesses have stepped in to help the Reynolds family with the cost of the trip to South Africa, including James D. Julia, Inc. of Fairfield and Total Amusements of Manchester, N.H. Stan LaPointe, owner of the Pointe Afta restaurant in Winslow, donated a signed, framed Ray Bourque jersey for a raffle.
“So a lot of people are helping us.” Steve said.
Taylor was on the cross country and track and field teams in middle school, but dropped those and focused on pool and basketball. Even though Steve is a fine pool player himself and knows how good Taylor can be, he and Tammy decided not to pressure her into picking one sport.
“We want her happy,” Steve said. “The first thing you want for your kid is to be happy. When she plays in a basketball game for her school and they win, and the whole school’s watching, that brings her a different kind of happiness than she gets out of pool, a different kind of satisfaction.”
“Basketball is like my second passion,” Taylor said. “I love basketball. I’m just an athlete. I can’t see myself just playing pool, hitting the balls around. I have energy. I need to go and play.”
There will be a conflict on Dec. 13, when Lawrence plays Cony in its second game of the regular season. Taylor will miss the game, because she will be in South Africa. Steve and Tammy said they are unsure whether the team’s policy is to have Taylor miss any additional games as a “punishment” for missing the Cony game.
“Whatever her coach says, we agree with,” Steve said.
Taylor’s goal is to attend Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. It’s a school known for its billiards team, and Miller, among others, is a student there. Taylor will have enough credits to graduate at the end of this school year, but the idea of graduating a year early is relatively new to her, so she’s still figuring out her plans.
“Charlie Williams runs Dragon Promotions, and they put on some of the biggest pool tournaments in the world,” Steve said. “He’s already called us and spoken to Taylor a dozen times about how, if she wants to get an education, he totally understands that, but if she doesn’t go to college, he wants her to hone her game and compete on the world level.”
But most likely, if Taylor does turn pro, it will be after college. There aren’t a lot of major money-making tournaments for women, so she’d be hard-pressed to make a living solely over her pool talents.
“If I played pool when I got older, it would be a side job,” Taylor said. “I’m going to college, probably at Lindenwood, for four years, for something. I don’t really know what I want to be yet, but I’m going to take the core classes and figure it out. I would never try to make pool my only job. It’s just too hard. I want to go pro, but I would want a separate job.”