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Premier Pool: Eight Days at Morningside — Looking Back at 2023

By Keith Shaner

Francisco Sanchez Ruiz Winner of 2023 Premier League Pool
Francisco Sanchez Ruiz Winner of 2023 Premier League Pool Photo by Taka Wu of Matchroom Multisport

Looking back at last year's Matchroom's World Nineball TourPremier League Pool 

On March 6th, 2023, Sixteen of the most exciting players in the world entered Morningside Arena for the Premier League Pool round-robin tournament, a Matchroom invitational event. Taken from the top world rankings and handpicked wildcards. Premier League Pool brought a dream fan spectrum of players to battle in races to five. Pool legend Earl Strickland. Born in North Carolina, this multiple world champion, who is also one of two players to hold 5 US Open titles, is still a threat to win at 61 with his almost mythical high gear. The defending champion, Albin Ouschan, the Austrian native, is a two-time world champion, European champion, International Champion, and multi-time Mosconi Cup team member for Europe. Seo Seoa from Korea, ranked 11th in the world and recently finished 3rd in the World Championship, is an exciting young player and is quickly becoming a hero to young women all over the world. Also, among the dozen countries represented here are Shane Van Boening, The South Dakota Kid, and the face of American Pool for the last 15 years. His pool pedigree, coming from a family of champions, is as pure as it gets. He is a World Champion and the other holder of 5 US Opens along with Earl, a plethora of pool titles, and Mosconi Cup appearances. Another legend in the ranks was Alex “The Lion” Pagulayan. Alex’s list of accomplishments takes its own article. World Champion 9-Ball holds all titles from the Derby City Classic, including the Master of The Table, as well as titles in every discipline of pool, and he has won the Canadian Snooker title as well. Born in the Philippines and raised in Canada, Alex calls the world home and is welcomed anywhere in it. Then we have the hottest player in international play right now, Francisco Sanchez Ruiz. The favorite son of Spain is the current World Champion in both 8-Ball and 9-Ball; he has won the European Championship, Derby City, and World Cup of Pool and has been a member of Team Europe for the Mosconi Cup.

Jayson Shaw 2023 Premier League Pool
Jayson Shaw 2023 Premier League Pool at Morningside Arena photo by Taka Wu for Matchroom Multisport

The event also saw fan-favorite Jayson Shaw from Scotland, along with the magic of Chris Melling representing the UK. Naoyuki Oi from Japan, who has been playing terrific pool and whom fans love to follow, was a no-brainer. Konrad Juszczyszyn, a strong player from Poland, is always among the favorites to win, and he seems to get better in every event he plays in. Skyler Woodward, multi-MVP of the Mosconi Cup and one of the strongest US players joined countrymen Earl and Shane. Wu Kun Lin, who recently finished 3rd in the WPA World 9-Ball, and Chou Cheh Yu, the Women’s 9-Ball World Champion, were representing Taiwan. Luong Duc Thien from Vietnam has been making big waves in the last year and was one to keep an eye on in this event. Sanjin Pehlivanovic from Bosnia is another strong young European storming the pool world. Sanjin is only 21, and he continues to rise each year in international play and is a definite contender for the title. Rounding out the 16 invites is Khalid Alghamdi, the young Saudi player and winner of the SVB Junior Open. Last was a fun invite, and he was ready to prove he will soon have a place on the world stage.

Day one highlights started with Defending Champion Albin Ouschan playing a tight match against Earl Strickland and taking the hill-hill victory by a hair.  Shaw began his match with his friend Chris Melling by sinking four balls on the break but was unable to capitalize, and Melling took game 1. After being down to Chris early, Shaw regrouped and came back to win a hill-hill when Melling scratched in the deciding game, giving Jayson the ball in hand.

Earl Strickland 2023 at PLP Morningside Arena
Earl Strickland 5x Us Open Champion at Morningside Arena 2023 Photo by Taka Wu for Matchroom Multisport

Earl's day did not get easier. After playing the defending champion, he came right back against Naoyuki Oi, dropping a close one at 5-3. Then, right back again against the hottest player currently, Francisco Sanchez Ruiz, he closed the door for day one, winning 5-1.


Sky Woodward struggled on day one, dropping matches to Albin Ouschan and Konrad Juszczyszyn. Shane Van Boening started the event off by winning two thrilling hill-hill matchups against Wu Kun Lin and Khalid Alghamdi. Konrad Juszczyszyn had an incredible day one with impressive wins over Luong Duc Thien, Sky Woodward, and Naoyuki Oi. Francisco Sanchez Ruiz went 2-1 with wins over Strickland and Chou Chieh Yu before dropping one to the young phenom Sanjin Pehlivanovic.

Shane Van Boening 2023 PLP
Shane Van Boening at Morningside 2023 Photo by Taka Wu for Matchroom Multisport

Day two highlights saw SVB taking on Sky, with SVB taking the win over the star from Kentucky. Chris Melling, however, delivered a loss to Shane with some brilliant play to finish with a score of 5-3. Earl Strickland found his form with a big win over Konrad Juszczyszyn. Konrad also fell to the young Sanjin as he continues to show no fear when he’s on the table. The Lion roared in with a 5-1 win over Chou Chieh Yu. Alex then dropped a heart-breaking hill-hill match to Chris Melling. SVB recovered from his loss to Melling as he defeated Luong Duc Thien with a great combination of shots and strategy. Oi defeated Albin Ouschan, as did Sanjin, as players continued to try to chip away at his title defense.

Day three began with Sanjin Pehlivanovic defeating Wu Kun Lin. He started his next match by taking a big lead on Seo Seoa, but the young lady was not going out without a fight, and she mounted a comeback but came up just a little short, losing 5-3. Seo Seoa proved her mettle by coming right back and defeating Albin Ouschan 5-3. Naoyuki Oi had a big win against Shane Van Boening 5-4, and he defeated the young junior champion Khalid Alghamdi 5-2 to complete his day. Albin Ouschan managed to get a little momentum back with a win over Luong Duc Thien to end the day 2-1.

Day four saw Naoyuki Oi begin the day taking down Alex Pagulayan 5-3 but slipped when he went right back up against Wu Kun Lin and lost 5-2. Seo Seao lost a close match to Chou Chieh Yu. Sky Woodward regained some focus, going 3-0 on the day with wins over Seo Seoa, Khalid Alghamdi, and Luong Duc Thien. Jayson Shaw also went 3-0, taking off the young Alghamdi 5-4, then defeating Konrad Juszczyszyn and Earl Strickland by identical 5-2 scores.

Seo Seoa at Morningside 2023 PLP
Seo Seoa at Morningside 2023 PLP Photo by Taka Wu for Matchroom Multisport

On day five, Seo Seoa split early matches, losing 5-2 to SVB but defeating Melling 5-4. She then went on to defeat Earl Strickland 5-1 after an afternoon loss to Wu Kun Lin 5-3. SVB had two losses on the day: one win over Earl and two losses to Alex and Oi. In a day of big-name losses, Jayson Shaw lost 5-4 to Pagulayan, 5-3 to Sanjin, and 5-3 to Luong Duc Thien.

On day six, Sanjin Pehlivanovic dropped to early hill-hill matches, while FSR continued to quietly move through opponents, taking wins over Alex Pagulayan, SVB, and Wu Kun Lin. Konrad was 2-2 on the day, and SVB finished strong, defeating Alex 5-0.

Day seven began with us down to 10 players, and the competition heated up accordingly. Sanjin came out of the gate swinging, taking down Sky Woodward 5-2. He then fell 5-3 to Alex Pagulayan.  Francisco had two early wins over Oi and Konrad. He then finished the day with two more over Shaw and Sanjin. Sky Woodward let an early lead slip but defeated Jayson Shaw's hill-hill. Sky then defeated Alex Pagulayan 5-3. SVB also finished the day strong with wins over Naoyuki Oi and Wu Kun Lin. Jayson Shaw had wins over Alex and Sanjin.

On the final day, we were down to 6 players, and the early matches had Jayson Shaw winning 5-4 over Konrad. Naoyuki Oi defeated Sanjin Pehlivanovic 5-2, and Konrad dropped a hill-hill match to Alex Pagulayan. FSR took the win over Oi and then downed Shaw 5-0. Alex edged out Oi 5-4, and Sanjin blanked Konrad. FSR then defeated Sanjin 5-4 to finish the morning matches.

The afternoon session saw us with Jayson Shaw, Sanjin Pehlivanovic, Konrad Juszczyszyn, Naoyuki Oi, Francisco Sanchez Ruiz, and Alex Pagulayan left to compete. Everyone went 1-1 except Sanjin, who suffered two losses, and Konrad, who had two wins.  After the final tallies, the final four were Shaw, FSR, Oi, and Pehlivanovic. Now with races to 7, Jayson Shaw beat Sanjin 7-4 while Francisco cruised to a 7-3 win over Oi.

Jayson Shaw won the lag but faced a very difficult first shot. After his miss on the jump combination, FSR took the first rack. Francisco went on to win game two, but Shaw won the next three before FSR evened the match up. At 5-4, a long safety battle ensued, and finally, with some great shot-making and cue ball control, FSR stretched his lead to 6-4. With another early round of safes, Francisco Sanchez Ruiz won the rack to take the game, set, match, and the Championship!

It was another great Matchroom production, and I hope the fans appreciated the play on the tables and the stories that went along with every player, and what their presence brought to an event like this one. I know this fan did.


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