Table tennis spins it up at National Championships in Texas
Published: Saturday, April 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Most acknowledge table tennis as a recreational diversion played in basements for fun, at least in the United States, but know relatively little about the game. Yet in other circles, table tennis is appreciated as a highly competitive sport, one that combines acute hand-eye coordination, a full range of body movement and quick reflexes.
One group here in Lincoln Park has a great fervor for the sport. The DePaul table tennis club team, which was formed just last year, is made up of students of widely varying experience levels, but the same passion for the game. Recently, the club team competed at the College Table Tennis National Championships in Plano, Texas April 13-15. They finished in 14th place out of 24 schools in the coed competition, a strong performance for their first tournament on the national level.
Lindenwood University and Texas Wesleyan University, who won the women’s title and coed team title, respectively, are two of only three schools in the U.S. to offer academic scholarships for college table tennis players. While DePaul doesn’t offer academic scholarships for the club sport they did manage to receive full funding for the trip.
“We were very thankful to receive funding for our trip to the tournament,” said Kangkang Huang, sophomore finance and economics student and president of the table tennis team. “We really weren’t expecting DePaul to pay for us, but we really appreciated it and had a great experience.”
Huang, born and raised in China, has played table tennis since she was nine years old. In 2004, Huang moved to Singapore to play for the national table tennis team. She competed there until 2008, when she moved to Chicago. While a student at DePaul, Huang is also a sponsored athlete for Chicago-based table tennis company KillerSpin.
Though she’s had plenty of professional experience playing, Huang was still just as happy as the rest of the team for their national tournament opportunity.
“We were super excited for the tournament,” said Huang. “We didn’t have that much time to practice, but we were excited to make it to nationals, at least.”
Though the team has not had much playing experience together, there is clear evidence they have chemistry when competing. They played well enough in the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) divisional and regional tournaments to qualify for the nationals, a great achievement for such a newly created club.
“We started the club from scratch, so it was really kind of hard to put all that work together and keep the club running. We try to practice twice a week, but since DePaul doesn’t have a table tennis facility, we have to rent a place off campus.”
The facility where the team practices is called the Chi-Slam Table Tennis Club on 1647 W. Chicago Ave., one of only a few table tennis facilities in Chicago. Nestled in a shared building space with a company that rents U-Haul dollies and packing boxes as well as a flower shop, the table tennis club offers DePaul’s team a dedicated space to practice and hone their skills.
“[Kangkang] is constantly working with me on my footwork. Even though I was a tennis player before, [table tennis] is a much faster rhythm,” said Colin Sato, a senior studying physics and math.
Sato, who began playing table tennis seriously only six months ago, has truly be¬come enraptured with the game ever since picking up a paddle. One of the less experienced players on the team, Sato has improved greatly through his dedicated practicing. Be¬ing able to practice at Chi-Slam has been instrumental in Sato’s turnaround as well.
“There really aren’t that many places where you’re not going to hit somebody with the ball when they’re doing their workout or where you have enough space,” said Sato. “At the Ray, I’m sure it seems to most people like there’s enough space around both the table tennis tables, but to the side and by the window you can easily lose your ball.”
With a dedicated venue to practice and solid tournament experience, the DePaul table tennis team has high aspirations for the future.
As for how they will fare next season, Huang said, “I think our team will be in the top eight next year.”