A small ball is volleyed back and forth with almost impossible speed over an unforgiving net. The two players concentrate on connecting their paddle with the blur of a ball. At the same time, they try to figure out their opponent’s weakness and pit their own strengths against it. This is the sport of table tennis.
Six players from BYU will be competing in a four-school pre-qualifying tournament held on Oct. 20 at the University of Utah. The winning school will advance to compete in the national table tennis tournament. However, these six players aren’t just ping pong enthusiasts who play only for the fun of the game. These players are competing in table tennis, the sport, which according to the players, is a very different thing.
“I’ve played in the garage with my friends and brothers and you think you’re good, but when you really play against players who play and have coaches it’s a completely different game,” Michael Bunn, a senior from Las Vegas, Nev. majoring in industrial design said. “You have ping pong which is fun, which most everybody is familiar with and then you have ping pong the sport, which is a lot of training.”
The sport of table tennis involves a lot more strategy than the casual ping pong player acknowledges. The players need to understand the way their opponents play and figure out how to use their skills to advance in the tournament.
“Although you do have certain skill sets, you have to know how to pit your strengths against your opponents weaknesses,” Justin Wong, a 25-year-old law student from Texas said. “Just because your fundamentals are pretty good doesn’t mean necessarily you’ll win even against an opponent whose fundamentals aren’t as good as yours.”
The preparation for the upcoming tournament has steadily increased as the date looms nearer. The players have spent more time practicing their technique and fortifying their skills.
“As the tournament approaches, we increase our training,” John Chan, 26, a chemical engineering major from Singapore said. “We help each other, and brush up on our fundamentals and defensive moves and things like that.”
In addition to Bunn, Chan and Wong, the three other players for BYU entering the tournament are: Liyi Li, 23, an entrepreneurship major from China; Ryan Gubler, 35, a master’s student from Salt Lake City; and Jay Liu, 26, a chemical engineering major from Taiwan.
Most of the players have been playing the majority of their lives, having started playing competitively at an early age. Chan started playing at eight years old, while Li started at 10, three of which were spent on a professional team. However, Bunn found competitive table tennis just over two years ago, and has risen up the learning curve to compete against other players.
“I’m always playing with people that are better than me,” Bunn said. “I’ve been able to get better faster, because there’s a lot of talent around me. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. If I win or lose, it’s up to me and my skill set.”
The tournament will start on Sat., Oct. 20 at the Health Physical Education and Recreation North Building on the University of Utah campus. The first round will begin at 11:15 a.m.