While multiple Yale varsity teams have attracted widespread media attention this year, one club team has left its own mark on the sports landscape this season.
The Yale table tennis team advanced to the regional championships, which took place on Feb. 27 in Westchester, New York, in just its third year since rebooting a program that had originally formed in 1969. Captain Mason Ji ’16 noted that the team’s growth in the past few seasons has been a “rise from the ashes” story, and this year Angus Fong ’19 has led the way.
The freshman and incoming captain, who began practicing table tennis with a coach when he was just six years old, qualified for the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association National Championships, where he reached the semifinals of the consolation bracket. Having competed amongst the top players in the nation and several Olympic-level participants from around the world, Fong spoke to the News about the team’s development at Yale, his own experiences with the club and at nationals and the team’s upcoming Yale Table Tennis Cup, a tournament scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Payne Whitney Gymnasium open to anyone affiliated with the University.
Q: Can you start off just by telling me a bit about the national tournament you competed in?
A: The tournament I played in was held in Round Rock, Texas, and that’s the major finale of table tennis in the continent so that’s where all qualified athletes from both the U.S. and Canada meet, in this knockout tournament over spring break. And it was the first time Yale has ever sent anyone to nationals … I qualified after finishing third in the New York City Downtown Division and seventh overall in the Northeast Region.
Q: Just looking back at nationals, what was it like just being there and the atmosphere?
A: For this tournament, I’m pretty sure this was the best one I had ever played in. It was really, really grand and the setup was really professional and I saw how they really value the sport here. I’m actually from Hong Kong. Back home, I would’ve thought we take table tennis much more seriously, but here, I was impressed with the venue and everything was very professional.
Q: As far as the actual play and competition, how did that go for you?
A: I played in the singles event. I didn’t play that well the first day; I just got there and was getting used to this really big venue, and was jet-lagged, and I lost the first two matches. I already knew I couldn’t get past that group stage but I knew there was a consolation stage so why not just use that last match to warm up for the next day? Without all the pressure, I played very well and beat the top finisher from my group. I was down two games but I just suddenly made a comeback and won the next three games.
Q: So being a freshman and making school history, is it just that in past years, Yale has not had players of the same caliber to advance?
A: I would say we haven’t had a structure. The club actually started three years ago and it’s really been built up from scratch. This year I joined and there were a few really good players who just joined this year and we had tryouts, and a streamlining procedure to select players to compete in the tournament.
Q: How does the practice schedule work and that structure of the club itself?
A: The club is basically an open one that anyone can come play in so there are open practice sessions where you and your friends can come play, and that’s every Friday. On two other days of the week, we have closed practice as well, where six or seven of our best players at Yale train together to prepare for competition.
Q: What do you envision as the future of the Yale club team, and do you think it could ever become a varsity sport?
A: What’s really limiting is the sport itself is not under the NCAA so by varsity, by making nationals and just by competing, I think we’re already [playing at a varsity level]. I think for the future, we really want to ride on our good performances and build the presence of the sport at Yale. I really want Yale to be like one of those top schools where table tennis is something that people know about and are proud of … I think our team will be making it to nationals as a group next year; I hope to make it happen. Our team made it to regionals this season and it was the first time an individual made it to nationals, but as captain next year, it’s my job to get the team wherever it is.