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UCI Table Tennis Takes Ninth Place Out of 24 Teams at the NCTTA Championships

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The UCI Table Tennis Club took ninth place out of 24 teams in the iSet National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) Championships, which took place from April 7 to April 11, in Round Rock, Texas. 

This was the club’s second year competing in the tournament; they first competed in 2019 and placed fourth overall. The NCTTA tournament was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. 

This year’s NCTTA featured a highly competitive field that included Duke University, Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley and Los Angeles, Columbia University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Michigan State University. UCI entered the tournament 15 in the nation and ended the competition in ninth place overall.

Sophomore computer science major William Bai, a competitor in the men’s singles division, made it all the way to the quarterfinals in the men’s singles bracket, finishing fifth place overall out of the top 84 men’s singles players competing in the tournament. 

This was an impressive feat for UCI because they were the last collegiate team to be invited. The championships featured an invite-only field with only 24 out of over 200 competing schools receiving invitations. 

“I was so excited to receive the invitation,” UCI Table Tennis Club president Hitoki Kidahashi said. “It was a huge honor for our club to be invited.”

The tournament started in the group stage; however, the Anteaters’ first matchup with Columbia University was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Lions program.

The Anteaters were determined to not let that cancellation derail their experience. Their next matchup featured the defending national champion Texas Wesleyan University Table Tennis Team. The Rams were a very formidable opponent, having won 69 national championships including 13 co-ed team championships since the program started in 2002. The Anteaters came up short against the Rams, making their final group stage match against Michigan State University a must-win match to advance to the 16 round.

The Anteaters shocked everyone with a huge upset win against the Spartans after earning a bid to the knockout round for the second year in a row. 

“We played better than I expected,” Kidahashi said. “I thought we’d be eliminated in groups.”

Unfortunately, UCI fell short in the knockout stages and lost to the University of Texas in round 16, finishing in a tie for ninth place to conclude the tournament. 

“I just want to raise awareness [for our club]” Kidahashi said. “Other schools are giving their teams way more resources while some people don’t even know that UCI has a team.”

For example, teams like Michigan State, which UCI defeated in the group stages, have many sponsorships and resources available to them provided by their universities.

“We had to pay for all our own travel expenses,” Kidahashi said. 

Because table tennis is not a nationally recognized sport and is not a part of the NCAA, student table tennis clubs can struggle to secure funding.

Kidahashi hopes that his team advancing this far into the tournament will motivate students who enjoy table tennis and may not have known that UCI had a table tennis club to join the team. 

“I hope we can raise awareness, and raise our club back up after [COVID-19],” Kidahashi said. “Maybe we can recruit hidden talented players from campus that aren’t motivated [to join a club].”

Those interested in joining the UCI table tennis club or following their journey can check them out on Instagram @ucitabletennis or sign up to participate in their upcoming tournament, open to all UCI students on May 7 at the Anteater Recreation Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer for the Spring 2022 quarter. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu