Although the table tennis team is not even part of Mississippi College’s athletic department, they are unquestionably the most talented competitors on campus. On April 4, the team will head to Monroeville, Pa. for their seventh consecutive national championship tournament appearance.
The team participates in the Dixie Division of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and was formed in 2007. Next spring, and every year since, they have gone to the national championship tournament. In 2014, they want to win it all.
“I came here because I want to help the school get first,” said Zesheng Huang, a newcomer to the team and the country this year. Although he is new on campus, he knows what the tournament means to the team. “Our school has gotten second in nationals (the past) two years, so this year, I want to get first.”
Mississippi College took fifth place in both 2010 and 2011. They then jumped to win second place in both 2012 and 2013, both years falling short of Texas Wesleyan University.
TWU has been a perennial champion. They have won the championship each of the past 10 years, and they currently have 3 players ranked in the top 15 in the nation.
Official NCTTA rankings, which are generated by statistics and mathematical equations based on wins and the quality of competition, hint that this year could finally be the fall of TWU.
MC’s Cheng Li ranks first in the league, which includes over 250 schools in the United States and Canada. Many schools participate in Division I athletics in the NCAA, such as reigning football champion Florida State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama, to list a few.
The fourth best player is another Choctaw, Yichi Zhang. Huang and Junyu Xiao rank 11th and 12th, and Zhiqiao Xie ranks 14th. Altogether, Mississippi College dominates the rankings with five players in the top 15, two more than TWU.
The Choctaws can attribute much of their success to the quality of talent that they bring in. All but one of the team members is a native of China. The lone American on the squad is Ty Brogdon, a junior. The majority of the Chinese players come from the Guangdong providence, the most populated providence in China.
In China, Table Tennis is considered to be the nation’s most beloved sport. Although Huang, who is ranked 11th in the nation, is new to MC, he has been playing Table Tennis since age 10.
“I play because my family plays,” said Huang. “My parents play at home every day.”
The head coach of the team has also helped to shape the talent that he is given, and his consistent trips to the championships point to how he manages the team well. Coach Ken Qiu is a native of China, whose father is a university professor and table tennis coach. Qiu supplements his coaching with employment at a university, too, working in the Office of Global Education at MC.
Connections to China, like that of Qiu and his father, help MC to recruit the talent across the Pacific Ocean. When the elder Qiu, Yuesheng, hosted a tournament at his school in Guangdong in the summer of 2012, Mississippi College gained exposure by becoming a key sponsor.
In 2014, the Table Tennis program is stronger than ever before. Each year the team has improved, coming closer to winning a title. On April 4 through 6, they will have another chance. To win it all, they likely will need to defeat Texas Wesleyan.
“I am nervous,” said Huang, “Because I want to win.”
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor