Geri Peterson competing in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy Geri Peterson

Geri Peterson plays pool. She plays pool extremely well.

In 2007, the local Fairway Market employee qualified for the American Poolplayers Association (APA) U.S. Amateur Championships in Atlanta. Idyllwild businesses and residents anteed up to help defray the costs of her trip.

This year, Peterson’s team of eight women finished fifth out of 69 national qualifying teams at the APA 2011 Ladies 8-Ball National Championships at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev.

Geri Peterson. Photo by Marshall Smith
“No Riverside County team has ever finished this high before,” said Peterson, who captained the team. “The competition is kind of like the Super Bowl of pool.” The highest previous finish for a Riverside County team (both women’s and open categories, which includes men) was 65th place, Peterson noted.

Now Peterson and her team are doing victory laps throughout the county. “We’ve also started our quest for next year’s nationals,” said Peterson, who remembered the first time she took a women’s team to Vegas in 2004. “It was Vegas,” said Peterson, “it’s a party town and we partied.”

With a disappointing finish in 2004, Peterson resolved to make certain 2011 would be different. “We had team meetings prior to each day of play to keep the team focused,” she said. The change in team tactics paid off. Peterson said each day of the three-day competition was grueling, typically with three matches lasting an average of three hours each. “We’d start at 11 a.m. with the first round of five games,” she said. “Whoever was the first to win three would move on. We’d finish the third match at 1 a.m.”

After several days of play, the match before the quarterfinal came down to a sudden death 8-ball playoff. Only one member from each team competes. Peterson’s team member, Rita Tillson, and her opponent kept trying to put the eightball in the pocket. “It was grueling,” said Peterson. “I was sick to my stomach watching, but Rita prevailed. Then, because the sudden death had gone on so long [an hour over the three hour normal match time], we had only 15 minutes before we had to play in the quarterfinal. We lost the first game, won the second, and then lost the next two, taking us out of the competition. We had played nonstop throughout the tournament, were undefeated until the quarterfinal and placed fifth nationally. We’re very happy with our finish.”

With almost no break on returning from the Las Vegas team nationals, Peterson launched into individual competition qualifying rounds for the APA 2011 Amateur Championships to be held in Tampa, Fla., in November. The night before Saturday play was to begin at Stix Billiards in Rancho Cucamonga, while staying overnight in the area, Peterson opened her cue case to find that someone had either mistakenly or purposely replaced her cues with others where she had played the previous night. Frantic calls to the prior venue yielded results. And, just before she had to play on Saturday, friends managed to bring two of Peterson’s three cues to her. Peterson steadied herself and began to play, making it to the semi-finals before loosing. “Had I won that last game, I would have again gone to the U.S. Amateur Championships,” she said. “It [playing in major competitions] is all a learning curve.”

Peterson is a committed competitor. She is already fixed on her next goal — winning next year’s team competition in Las Vegas.