The Mizzou Table Tennis Club competed at the national championship in Rockford, Ill. last weekend, placing 22nd out of 24 total teams.
The team moved up the rankings one spot, beating the 17th seed in the nation, SUNY Buffalo, then losing to the 10th seed, New York University.
“We just wanted to do better than 23,” MU graudate student Di Gao said.
Team captain Alan Chu competed individually and with a partner in the tournament. He faced the current U.S. national champion from NYU and a professional Chinese player while competing individually, losing to both in tight matches. He was individually ranked 28th in the nation coming into the tournament, but left the competition ranked 17th.
The players who competed at Nationals were Gao, Chu, Yifeng Jia, Scott Meredith and Yuyang Ying.
Before qualifying for Nationals, the club competed at divisional and then regional tournaments, with both the team and Chu placing second at Regionals.
This is the club’s second year as an organization on campus, but this is the first year it has received funding to compete. Out of the seven members on the qualifying team, four were available to compete at the national tournament.
“It’s all about our team cohesion and confidence,” Chu said.
Chu, a graduate student in sport psychology, said he applied his sport psychology lessons to his team and the game. He spoke about the importance of composure with the team.
Table tennis is a combination of physical strength and strategy, Gao said. Exhaustion sets in after competing, and if players get nervous or tense, then they miss the ball.
“A lot of people think table tennis is just for fun, but it’s a (real) game,” Gao said.
The club has been competing in table tennis tournaments all semester long to prepare for the post-season tournaments. Once the team qualified for Nationals, the four teammates traveled to a national table tennis training facility in Maryland. There, they underwent intensive training for three days, six hours each day.
The national tournament was held in a tennis facility with tables set up on each half of the tennis courts. Sixteen tables were set up for simultaneous tournament play, and 16 tables were set up for practice.
“It’s Nationals,” Gao said. “It’s totally different than the teams in the Rec Center."
Several players were professional table tennis players and others had competed in Olympic trials.
Chu, Gao and Ying will play in the U.S. Open in July. Chu acts as both captain and coach to the team. If Chu is competing, the other players will act as a coach to each other.
“This year, I took the leadership role,” Chu said. “I hope the leadership role keeps going.”
He said he hopes the team lasts as long as it can. There are currently about 20 members in the club, but the club is always looking for more players. Anyone of any skill can join.
Chu has been playing table tennis for 20 years. He competed in the China nationals when he was an undergraduate student studying there. Gao has been playing competitively for 10 years. All other members of the national qualifying team have been playing for eight or more years.
To raise funds for this summer and next year’s competitions, the team will be fundraising at Yogoluv this Sunday. Customers must mention the Mizzou Table Tennis Club at the register, and then 20 percent of the proceeds made will go toward the club’s travel fund.