ASI table tennis tournament challenges students to raise their paddles and serve some heat

By Oscar Huerta, Oct. 3, 2023

Cal Poly Pomona students rallied up to the BRIC courts to test their table tennis skills and compete in an ASI tournament Sept. 22.

Twelve table tennis enthusiasts competed to sharpen and prove their skills in table tennis against each other, with the final match involving a bout between two longtime rivals.

The champion, Hanson Han, faced his rival, Julie Liu, after blazing through the tournament with hopes of competing against people who could push him to improve.

“I wanted to find somebody who’s better than me so I can learn from them, because that’s how you learn – you play people who are better than you,” Han said.

The tournament consisted of a singles bracket followed by a brief doubles bracket. To proceed to the next round, competitors needed to win two out of three sets by scoring 11 points each game. The rewards for the champions included an ASI T-shirt and $25 in Bronco Bucks.

The event started off in the singles bracket with three games going on at three different tables simultaneously. Every game went through various phases of intensity as players shifted from controlled rallying to frantic battles for recovery.

Sameer Sharma said that this mix of fast-paced and controlled play is normal for table tennis as players gradually learn and counter their opponent. He said that understanding the fundamentals and playing against people who can challenge you is key to mastering this balance.

To improve, Sharma said he makes time to play against skilled players from the table tennis club because it is fun to try pushing past his limits to beat them.

“Playing against them I feel makes me a better pingpong player, and it definitely encourages me to keep going because if I’m stuck at one point, it kind of gets boring after a while, but if I can see myself getting better and acknowledge that I have some work to do, it really helps me get back to the pingpong scene,” Sharma said.

Han felt similarly as he was looking for ways to improve in table tennis. Han cultivated two years of experience with the sport prior to arriving at CPP, and since then he joined the table tennis club and consistently practiced in order to find competition who could push him to be better.

In the tournament, Han worked his way to the final round to face Liu, a familiar competitor whom he competed neck and neck with many times prior. He said that she had a winning streak against him recently, which put some pressure on him to win.

“I’ve played with her before, so I kind of know her style already,” Han said. “I just got to find out certain moves, certain serves that will counter the style. If I never played her before, then it’s just learning on the spot, but if you’ve been playing with someone and you play them for real in a tournament match, then you want to find out what their weaknesses are.”

Before the final match started, Han and Liu both did a few warmup rallies against each other. Spectators watched in awe as they kept a fast rally going between each other with the ball barely scraping above the net. As soon as they were both ready, they started the final match.

Han and Liu carried over the same energy of their warmup rally and stayed in a low, focused stance, swinging the ball back and forth in quick succession. Serves happened quickly, and the pace of each rally started fairly controlled before gradually getting faster with each return, sometimes ending with a powerful spike of the ball. Neither side let their guard down, making each rally a long battle of endurance and skill.

Playing best three out of five, Han won the first two games with no signs of letting up, but then Liu began to pick up the pace and won the third game. Han said this had him worried because she made several comebacks against him in the past.

However, Han locked himself in after Liu’s third game victory, which led him to take the fourth game and win the singles bracket. Han said it was a fun match, and it was exhilarating to beat her in a tournament setting.

Han also played in a quick single-round doubles bracket on a team with Sharma against Liu and table tennis club president Matthew Baldivino. Liu and Baldivino won the match, and the ASI event organizers rewarded the champions of both brackets.

ASI Competitive Sports Manager DJ Netherly said that ASI will continue holding these tournaments for players of all skill levels. Students interested in this tournament can check the ASI portal for future events.

Feature image courtesy of Oscar Huerta

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