EAST LANSING, Mich. -- When Eric Wu, a junior computer science major, went to his first Club Table Tennis practice at Michigan State, he thought he was a solid player. After all, he fared well against his friends in his Farmington Hills, Michigan basement growing up.
From the start of his first match, against another club member, he immediately realized he was out of his league.
“I got wrecked completely,” said Wu, of his debut performance. “So it was a little bit daunting at first. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are pretty good’.”
It turns out that the Michigan State Table Tennis club has some outstanding players, typically placing well, as a team, in highly competitive National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) events. Rival Michigan, a NCTTA powerhouse, is the only team that regularly defeats them in their multiple interstate tournaments throughout the season.
MSU’s strength comes from having players like freshman club president Stefan Zhang, who has been playing table tennis for all of his life. Growing up in northern China, Zhang played into high school, where he was eventually forced to take a break from the sport to focus on his studies.
“Most people play in China,” said Zhang. “In China, we take it pretty seriously like it’s a sport. People here don’t really think it’s a sport, but it is.”
The club works hard throughout the entire school year, practicing two nights a week, downstairs in tiny racquetball rooms at IM West, Michigan State’s largest on campus gym. Buckets of balls are repetitively volleyed back and forth across the table. When each bucket is empty, balls are easily scooped up with a net that looks like it belongs on a fishing boat.
That hard work pays off when it gets to be tournament time.
“The tournaments are definitely exciting, because you get to fight like a team against the other teams” said Zhang.
The work has also paid off for Wu, who has seen progress with a semester of competitive table tennis under his belt.
“I can return a lot more than I could before, but I still cannot dish out nearly as many nice shots,” said Wu. “But I can at least return more of them, so I feel like I’m getting better.”