Billy Aards Club: Making A Home In The Game Room

SOCORRO, N.M. August 1, 2010 – One of New Mexico Tech’s longest running student clubs is always looking for new members.

 Tech student Delia Mocanu lines up a shot in the ACUI Championship Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.

  Tech Student Claims Runner-Up In National 9-Ball Championship

SOCORRO, N.M. August 1, 2010 – Delia Mocanu first played pool when she was growing up in Romania, but she never really took the game seriously as a competitor.

After coming to New Mexico Tech, she joined the Billy Aards Club and picked up some mad skills.

In mid-July, she achieved what no Tech student has ever done in billiards. She finished second in the national ACUI Championship tournament.

A physics and math major, Mocanu earned a trip to the national championships by winning the Region 13 tournament in February. She joined 20 other women from colleges around the nation in Ann Arbor, Mich., for the three day tournament.

“As soon as I got there, I changed and headed to the game room,” she said. “Tables play and feel different everywhere you go, so it takes a while to adjust”

The tournament pits players in games of nine-ball, in which players must first make the one-ball, then proceed in numerical order until the highest numbered remaining ball (the 9) is pocketed.

In her opening match, Mocanu swept Aileen Nguyen 7-0. She then defeated Emilyn Callado 7-6 to get to the semifinals.

“That match was really hard; I knew she was one of the best players,” Mocanu said. “She is the twin sister of a four-time champion, the tournament director. They are both great people.”

She lost to Lindsey Dorn 7-3 and was relegated to the consolation bracket. She defeated Nguyen again 7-5, then beat Callado again 7-3, before downing Cynthia Higa 7-3 to earn a spot in the finals. For the second time, Mocanu lost to Dorn 7-2 and finished as the national runner-up.

“I didn’t get to do anything except play pool,” Mocanu said. “It was a lot of fun and people were really nice.”

Mocanu said she was losing two matches was frustrating because she was playing well before, but couldn’t get ahead of Dorn.

“In the first match that I lost, I wasn’t feeling confident,” she said. “After that, I just played like I was warming up, following my instincts and not overthinking any shot. In the final, I was just really happy to be there. I guess I was intimidated. There were 60 or 70 people watching and that was kind of weird.”

The Billy Aards Club (a.k.a. The Billiards Club) has about 15 members, but is one of the most active clubs. The billiards players get together  every week for a ladder competition, holds a tournament twice a semester and sends players to the regional college tournaments.

This year, Delia Mocanu won the regional women’s championship, qualifying her for the national tournament of the Association for College Union International. Mocanu made it to the championship final, where she lost and was named the national runner-up. Over 500 students participate in the regional tournaments each year. There are 15 regions with hundreds of colleges and universities as members of ACUI.

“She’s our source of pride,” club president Nick Karler said. “We’ve had someone go to nationals every year almost, but this is the first time a Tech student finished on the podium (top three).”

The Club has three divisions for tournaments – A, B and C – with the top players competing in the A Division. All students are welcome to play pool, join tournaments and enjoy the game room. Club members practice together and encourage each other to improve their shot-making. Many of them spend hours a day in the game room.

“We love fostering a desire to play pool among new students,” Karler said. “People come in to the game room. We’re nice to them and they get the urge to play more.”

Ray Piworunas, a staffer at The Computer Center on campus is the club’s guru and long-time advisor. Paul Giannuzzi, an engineer at EMRTC, recently took over the reins as official club advisor, but Piworunas is still a mainstay in the game room and the elder statesman of billiards on campus.

“Ray always goes out of his way to help us with practicing or organizing events. We owe him a lot”, Mocanu said.

The ladder competition has been ongoing since the mid-1980s, with more than 300 students and former students still in the data base. The attraction of billiards keeps students coming back for more, Karler said.

“People think of pool like it’s a random game, but it s very much like chess,” Karler said. “There are text book shots that you expect people to make, then there are shots out of left field that are completely amazing.”

Karler said a background in science does not necessarily help a person become a good pool player. He said he might use some basic geometry and physics, but the movement of pool balls can’t easily be predicted.

“Next to our beds and our books, that’s where we live,” Karler said. “It’s a friendly atmosphere that centers around pool.”

Karler said the Billy Aards Club – and all Tech students – have a luxury of excellent billiards equipment that most colleges do not have.

“We have extremely good tables,” Karler said. “We are very grateful for our facilities. Other schools have terrible tables. We go to other functions and it boggles my mind. A lot of us have problems adjusting to playing on bad tables.”

The Tech game room has three 9-foot tables, one 7-foot table, a carom table and a snooker table. Mocanu first learned billiards in her home country of Romania. She only became serious about improving her skills after coming to Tech, though. She said it’s very rare for a college game room to have a snooker table, and that got her excited about playing more billiards.

Mocanu said the relaxed atmosphere lends itself for studying and relaxing, in addition to playing pool.

“If I’ve had a long day and I’m tired, I can sit and read and take a couple shots,” she said. “It’s quiet and it’s good for learning.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech