By Cyrus Gutnick
The players stand far back behind the table as they await the next quick shot across it. With their heels slightly elevated and their hands up and ready, the players are prepared for any type of spin shot that comes their way. Under-spin, side-spin, top-spin, or a quick flat shot — their reflexes are set to take on anything.
Forget ping-pong, the hobby-turned-drinking pastime. This is table tennis: an arena for warfare that uses plastic balls shot off of a 2.0mm rubber cover stretched over wood and carbon aero light blades that creates ball speeds up to 70 mph.
Of course, there is more to the game than the paddles, the shots and quick reflexes — there are the players and their style.
*The Guru*: A moment of fear struck in 2004 when it looked like the table tennis club would dissolve, due to a lack of officers and the graduation of the previous president. To keep the club alive, senior Cong Xiao came in and led the club, acting as president and guru for the other members. Xiao has successfully run the club for the past four years.
“To accelerate your game, it is recommended to have a coach,” Xiao said.
Because the club is without a coach, Xiao uses his extensive knowledge of the game and years of experience to lead practices and help his team develop.
“When you play individually, you find the weakness of your opponent,” Xiao said. “You try different spins to see where he’s most vulnerable.”
As an avid table tennis player, Xiao divides his time playing both for the UC Santa Cruz team and over the hill in San Jose with his own club team. Still, he finds the time at practice to help others innovate their own game.
“These guys have been completely selfless, dedicated trainers,” said club member freshman Scott Ferreter. “They make it about me learning.”
*The Rookie*: Ferreter got into the sport of table tennis when he was young — thanks to his father. The two played to determine who would do the dishes each night. But Ferreter had no idea that it would develop as it did and carry on into his college career.
“Because Scott wasn’t here last season, we were second to last,” Xiao said.
Even though the team did not place as high in tournaments as its members had hoped, Ferreter has already elevated play within the club and will hopefully continue this trend over the next couple of years.
Ferreter did not come to UCSC to play table tennis, but it was always in the back of his mind.
“I came [to UCSC] thinking I would play ping-pong,” Ferreter said. “Absolutely everything exceeded my expectations.”
Ferreter exceeded everyone’s expectations as well.
“This season, with Ferreter on the team, he has brought talent and energy,” Xiao said. “He’s the hardest training player out of [us] all.”
But Ferreter knows that there is still a lot more he can to do to develop his game and there are certain tricks up Xiao’s sleeve that guarantees that there is more to learn.
“I want to learn this guy’s backhand loop,” Ferreter said of Xiao.
*The Entrepreneur*: As well as playing tennis, racquetball and badminton, he also walks over to the table tennis practice room to challenge the table tennis team. Junior Serge Blanchet is no stranger to the world of racquet sports.
“You need to have crazy reflexes,” Blanchet said. “And your hand-eye coordination needs to be in top shape.”
This is quite the compliment to the sport of table tennis coming from an athlete who plays other sports where the ball travels at equally high speeds, but over a much greater distance.
“You don’t even have time to think,” Blanchet said. “Because the court is so small.”
*The Craft*: The game is quick and the reflexes are even quicker, but according to club members there is a system to this speeding menace of a game.
“It’s called a three-ball shot,” Xiao said. “Serve, return and then kill the point.”
Xiao also explained it in simpler table tennis terms.
“Serve. Chop. Kill.”