By: Jason Bowman, APA
This year I was fortunate enough to travel to London to attend the 25th Annual Mosconi Cup at Alexandra Palace. I’d attended the Mosconi Cup three times prior, as recently as last year in Las Vegas. Each time, I watched Team USA lose convincingly. With each event though, I could feel my passion for a Team USA victory continue to grow and grow.
So when I was presented the chance to cover this year’s Mosconi Cup for APA, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the notoriously loud European crowds rocking the halls of Alexandra Palace which adds substantial pressure to any player who dare try to take the Cup from their beloved Team Europe.
I knew a win by Team USA would amount to a historic upset. After all, Team Europe was heavily favored after nearly a decade of Cup dominance.
Just last year, they took down Team USA convincingly by a score of 11-4 on U.S. soil against a roster made up of 3 of the 5 same players on this year’s U.S. team. With that combination of factors stacked against them, I knew going in that I was hoping for a long shot.
But, like a classic American underdog story, this year’s team found a way to do something special. Something very few around the globe thought possible, at least outside of the Team USA locker room.
There were so many keys moments that contributed to Team USA shocking the world, but for me, these were three key matches which told the story of Team USA’s victory at the 25th Annual Mosconi Cup:
1.) Styer Introduces Himself to the World
Few knew the name Tyler Styer when he was added to this year’s Mosconi Cup team, myself included. But, Team Captain Johan Ruijsink saw something special in the 23-year-old from Wisconsin and named him to the Team USA roster.
With Team USA quickly trailing 2-0 on Day 1 of this year’s Mosconi Cup, many American fans had to be thinking “here we go again.” For the past several years, Team USA had mostly imploded on Day 1 of the Mosconi Cup, making the days of competition to follow seem like a mere formality.
Now scoreless entering the halfway point of Day 1, with Styer squaring-off against four-time MVP Niels Feijen, hope for Team USA seemed to be fading quickly.
Little did we know though that when the announcer was introducing Styer on that winter night in London, that Styer would soon be introducing himself to the world.
He was completely unphased by the loud pro-European crowd, who’d just seen their team take the first two matches in the Race-to-11. Styer played with the calmness of a seasoned veteran as he single-handedly stole momentum away from Team Europe and the crowd with a 5-3 win over Feijen.
For me, this was without a doubt one of the biggest moments of the Mosconi Cup. Team USA would go on to win the next two matches, and take Day 1 by a score of 3-2. It was the first time they’d won a day’s competition in many years.
“It felt amazing out there, I appreciate the crowd – without them we wouldn’t be here,” said Styer after the match. “I told Coach Johan I wanted that match, so I’m glad I got the pick and I’m glad I got the W. It looks good to see my name in red on the scoreboard. I have watched the Mosconi Cup every year since I’ve been playing pool and it is great to be here.”
Tyler, I think it’s safe to say that fans of Team USA are happy to meet you!
2.) Skyler Silences the Palace
Team USA came into Day 3 of competition leading 6-4. Their fate at the end of Day 3, and likely overall in the tournament, rested squarely on the shoulders of 25-year-old Skyler Woodward.
Woodward had impressed in his first two Mosconi Cup appearances (both Team USA losses), but regressed a bit and lost all four matches he played in 2017. The Skyler we saw last year, was not the player we’d see this year in London.
Woodward had already won a singles and doubles match on Day 3, and was in a position to pick up Team USA’s ninth point in the race-to-11.
But, he’d have to do it against crowd favorite Jayson Shaw.
Shaw is beloved by fans of Team Europe, his name often chanted in song throughout Alexandra Palace each time he picked up his cue stick. And Shaw fed off the fans, pumping his fists, working them into a frenzy, and at one point jumping into Shane Van Boening’s chair on Day 2 after avenging a loss to him the day prior.
For the most part, Woodward was able to handle the crowd. But a key mistake late in the match, which some U.S. fans blamed on excessive crowd noises, opened the door for Shaw to pick up an important victory for Team Europe.
With a potential run-out in front of him, Shaw amazingly missed the 1-ball. Woodward then had the Scotsman hooked and he fouled, failing to hit a rail.
Woodward followed with a bit of an error with ball-in-hand, getting too close to the 4-ball. He left Shaw in a tight spot though and his attempted jump collided with the 8-ball.
Woodward made no mistakes with his second ball-in-hand of the rack and ran out all but the final 9-ball.
After pocketing the 8-ball, he put his hand to his ear in a playful gesture to the crowd, wondering where all the “Jayson Shaw inspired” chants and noise had gone. He’d finish off Shaw in front of a stunned crowd, giving Team USA a commanding 9-5 lead.
For me, this was the moment when I felt like the Cup was Team USA’s to lose.
Not only did they hold a commanding lead, but they were showing some toughness I’m not sure I’d seen before.
Skyler’s gesture to the crowd was a signal to the fans at Alexandra Palace, and to the world, that Team USA wouldn’t be bullied, and that they were determined to bring the Cup back home.
3.) The South Dakota Kid Saves the Day
After Woodward won a hill-hill nail-biter against Albin Ouschan to put Team USA a single win away from victory, it looked like this year’s Mosconi Cup was all but over.
But, Team Europe wasn’t about to concede anything. If Team USA wanted to take back the Cup, they were going to have to earn it by truly defeating the European powerhouse. Team Europe would win the next three matches, bringing the score to 10-9.
What had looked like an epic win by the underdog Americans, started to resemble that of an epic European comeback story instead.
This meant Team USA’s fate now resided with the South Dakota Kid, Shane Van Boening.
Van Boening is without a doubt Team USA’s top player, and Captain Ruijsink had held him back to close out this victory for Team USA if needed, but no doubt hoping it never got that far.
For years, many fans have questioned Shane’s desire to win the Mosconi Cup, likely just a byproduct of his fairly average record in the Cup versus the rest of his exceptional career resume.
After Team USA dropped its third match in a row, my anxiety level over the outcome of the match was sky high. I had to leave my seat in the arena for a few minutes and sought refuge from the chaotic scene in the back press room.
As I walked back, I passed Van Boening on his way to the arena from the practice room. His expression was stone-cold focus.
I wasn’t quite sure if this was good or bad. Was he too amped up? Could he handle the crowd who was once again in a complete frenzy over the prospect of a monumental comeback?
As nervous as I was, all I could keep thinking was “I don’t know how these guys can do it.”
Fortunately for Team USA, Shane quickly came out playing like America’s best player, opening up a 4-1 lead over Alex Kazakis.
As Shane moved to-the-hill, I moved back to my seat in the arena, not wanting to miss Team USA’s first celebration in a decade in person.
Inexplicably, Kazakis started mounting a comeback. I couldn’t help but quietly think to myself, “did I somehow jinx this by not staying in the media room?” A ridiculous notion of course, but so goes the life of superstitious sports fanatics everywhere.
With Shane now up just a game, and Kazakis owning the break, it looked like this match was headed to a hill-hill showdown. A victory by Team Europe would have meant a one-match playoff, which likely would have been Woodward vs. Ouschan, but alas we’ll never know, because Kazakis made a critical error at the table.
The error would leave Van Boening with a difficult, yet makeable shot for a player of his caliber, a 1-9 combination in the corner pocket. Van Boening saw the opportunity immediately and there was little doubt he intended to go for it. He readied himself over the table and then it happened, the shot heard around the billiard world. Van Boening pocketed the 9, and the celebration was on for Team USA.
Styer was the first to the table to congratulate Van Boening, followed by Corey Deuel. Billy Thorpe and Woodward rushed in from the back practice room where they had been trying to prepare Skyler for a potential playoff.
But thanks to Van Boening, no playoff would be needed, and it was time for Team USA to party deep into the London night.
There were so many great moments that defined this year’s Mosconi Cup, but for me these three stood out the most.
I hope you were able to enjoy this year’s Mosconi Cup, and if you haven’t seen all of the action, I’d encourage you to visit our Facebook page to go back and watch some of what was arguably the greatest Mosconi Cup ever produced.