WATERVILLE — Taylor Reynolds’ first experience with billiards began like so many others who get involved with the sport at a young age.

“First we had a table in our basement,” she said, perched on bar stool at TJ’s Classic Billiards. “I was probably four or five when I started.”

For most players that start at such a young age, those pool tables are only used for billiards for so long — more often becoming final resting places for old clothes or miscellaneous papers.

The fire for pool never burned out in Reynolds though. She never — like so many — gave up on the game after getting frustrated by the ever-so-slim margin for error that is ingrained in the sport’s very nature.

“I was playing at home and then after a couple years (my parents, Steve and Tammy) talked about buying TJ’s,” Reynolds said. “They were like Taylor’s actually pretty good at pool. She might improve.”

Boy — er, girl — did she ever.

Reynolds is getting ready to enter her senior year at Lawrence High School and she will do so as one of the most accomplished pool players in the country for her age group.

She has won the Billiard Education Foundation Junior National 9-ball Championship twice (2011 14-and-under, 2014 18-and-under) and has a number of runner-up finishes as well. Reynolds competed in the WPA World Junior 9-ball Championships in 2011 in Kielce, Poland and in 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and will once again vie against the best in the world Nov. 15-19 in Shanghai, China.

“It’s very exciting. You look forward to it all year,” the Winslow native said of what its like traveling to other countries to play. “Even if you don’t win, it’s such a great experience. Knowing that I’ve already been twice, it’s like I feel better. I’ve already been.

“The first time you’re scared. You’re going to a new country, you don’t know any of the other girls and they’re the best girls from each country,” Reynolds added. “I’ve played the best two girls from my country but I haven’t played the best two girls from every other country. It’s a lot more competition. It’s not like Junior Nationals where you’ve played everyone there and you know who you’re going to be competing with.”

Reynolds admits that she will still be a little nervous when she gets to China, but this time she feels she is better prepared to deal with those nerves.

“I’m good enough to beat just about any girl there and any girl there is good enough to beat me. We’re all a close game,” she said. “It kind of more depends on who is more ready for the match. Who’s nervous, and who’s not. Who’s focused and ready to get up and do their own thing, and who’s not ready.

“When I got there last year the first couple matches I didn’t play my best and I didn’t feel completely ready. Then I started getting more into the tournament, and it got better and better each match.”

That, of course, is what separates the good from the great in a sport like pool. When a millimeter makes the difference between a ball dropping in the pocket and rattling out, a momentary lapse in concentration can mean the difference in a match.

That kind of pressure, however, does not bother Reynolds — in fact, it’s part of what drew her to the sport. In addition to her mastery on the felt, she is a also solid player on the hardwood but its that individual control that has led her to focus solely on pool.

“(In) Pool I put as much as I possibly can into it and I go as far as a I put into it,” she said. “Basketball sometimes it doesn’t really matter how much you put into it. You can be the hardest working kid out there and if you don’t get your chance, you don’t get your chance.

“I still play everyday, I play a lot of basketball but I’m not going to play on the team this year. I put my focus into things where it’s going to take off. I’m not going to focus on something I’m never going to go anywhere with.”

Where can you go in pool? Well, college for one.

Reynolds is hoping to attend Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. and potentially even on a scholarship — yes, Lindenwood does offer college scholarships for billiards.

In addition to just playing in college, Reynolds is also excited at the possibility of competing for coach Mark Reynolds.

“Mark Wilson is a very smart instructor,” she said, “and I can learn a lot from him.”

Wilson was named the inaugural coach of the billiards program at Lindenwood in the spring of 2012, and he brought a ton of experience with him. A former top 25 player in the world, Wilson has written a book on pool, served as a commentator on ESPN and coached some of the top players in the sport — including Jeanette Lee and Karen Corr.

“They insist on first-rate programs,” Wilson said of the genesis of Lindenwood billiards. “It’d be up to me to recruit it, to include offering scholarships to athletes for billiards.

“…We started off in the first year we had 18 or 19 players and then (this past year) in the mid 30s. We have athletes from all over the country and the world.”

Lindenwood has already risen to the top of the collegiate billiard world, as this past season it produced the individual male and female champions at the 2014 Association of College Unions International Collegiate 9-ball Championships on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

One of those champions, Briana Miller, had been Reynolds top competition on the Junior National circuit before moving on to college.

“Me and her are pretty close and she’s beaten me a lot of the years I’ve played in it,” Reynolds said, speaking on the Junior National tournament. “I’ve only won it the two years she didn’t play in it. I have beaten her before. I beat her in a match to get to the finals (in 2013) but she ended up beating me in the finals.”

Time will tell if the two ultimately become teammates, but for now Reynolds is staying busy. She has spent the summer working two jobs — three if you include helping out at TJ’s — and playing pool when she can.

Reynolds and her family are in the process of planning a fund raiser to help pay for her trip to China, something they have done each of the past few times she has traveled to Worlds.

“We’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do yet,” she said, “but hopefully we’ll figure something out.”

When she does figure it out, the result will likely send her halfway around the globe.

Not bad for a kid who learned the sport some 12 years ago in her parent’s basement.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley

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