T o many college students, ping pong balls are an essential part of social life, used exclusively for beer games. But for some Penn students, ping pong balls are actually for ping pong.
Penn Club Ping Pong is in the midst of a historic season, finding more success than they have in recent years. The Quakers will send five players to Eau Claire, Wis., to compete in the TMS College Table Tennis Championships this coming weekend.
The total of five players marks the most that the team has sent to the three-day tournament in the past six years. Penn will be sending four players on the women’s side and one from the co-ed team.
The three-day tournament takes place in several stages, each happening on a different day. First, the opening day consists of group play, as each player will face three other opponents in their group. The top two players from each group then advance to a single elimination bracket of 32 on Saturday, with the championship on Sunday.
A consolation single-elimination bracket also exists for the players who qualified for the event, but are not ranked high enough to compete in the main bracket. These rankings are determined by the results of players throughout the year and before, and are constantly updated based on a formula that factors in strength of opponents.
The players qualified for Nationals at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament, which took place in Morrisville, N.C. on February 25. Penn sent six players to compete — two from the co-ed team and four from the women’s squad. At that tournament, the women’s team dominated, finishing in first place overall. They also had impressive individual results, as women’s captain and freshman Lucy Ma led the Red and Blue with a second-place finish and senior Zi Xin Lee took fourth place.
“I think that was really cool for us because this was the first time the women’s team has done pretty well and sent a team to Nationals,” Ma said. “It was also cool because this is the first time we’ve ever played together, so it was nice to see the whole team coming together and cheering for each other, as well as our co-ed team members.”
The co-ed team also performed well, earning a fourth-place finish. Co-ed team captain and senior Sho Hashizume led Penn with a finish in the round of eight, good enough to qualify him for this weekend’s tournament.
Heading into Nationals, the women’s team is ranked eighth out of the 16 competing teams. Ma earns the highest individual seed, entering the tournament as the No. 16 singles seed. Lee also earned a No. 36 singles seed, and two other Quakers, Liwang Huang and Peng Yue enter the weekend unseeded. Ma and Lee also compete together in doubles, and they earned the No. 10 doubles seed.
Hashizume, Penn’s lone co-ed representative, comes into the tournament as the No. 58 singles seed on the men’s side.
Penn will be up against some steep competition this weekend, as the tournament will feature the best teams and players from around the nation. For example, the top doubles pairing on the women’s side has a combined rating of 5067, while Penn’s pairing of Ma and Lee don’t even top 4000. Still, Penn’s squad is just looking to go out there and compete.
“I don’t set that many expectations for our team, just because we train much less than other teams do, and academics are a big focus at our school,” Ma said. “I think it’s mainly performing our best. I hopefully will get out of the round robin and into the main bracket, and for singles we’re hoping for about the same, just doing our best.”