With balls reaching speeds of 100 mph, table tennis is one of the
fastest sports in the world. It's also one of the fastest growing.
And like the sport's popularity, the reputation of The University
of Southern Mississippi table tennis team is shooting upward.
In its first
year playing competitively, the Southern Miss team has already established
itself as one of the nation's best table tennis teams. This weekend
the Golden Eagles, ranked sixth nationally, dominated No. 16 Mississippi
State and others to win the Dixie Region Conference championship
on the Hattiesburg campus. Southern Miss, which boasts the top three
players in the state, will now test its mettle against the nation's
16 best teams at the NCTTA championship on April 9-11 in Fremont,
Ramakrishnan, Southern Miss' team captain and the second-best player
in the state, is eager to dispel a few myths about table tennis.
Far from a recreational sport found only in game rooms, table tennis
is a worldwide phenomenon with more than 10 million registered competitors
and is also an Olympic sport.
is a physically demanding sport," said Ramakrishnan, an international
student who played table tennis semiprofessionally in India. "I
train with weights and run six to eight miles a week in addition
to practice. You can't reach the upper levels of this sport by just
playing a few times a week."
aspect of table tennis compounds the physical aspect, Ramakrishnan
said. With the ball spinning 10,000 times a minute and reaching
tennis-like speeds - only over a much shorter distance - players
must react in the blink of an eye. "Scientists have clocked
the time a player has to react, and it's about half a second,"
Ramakrishnan said. "When you must consider the spin and the
angle of the ball, and the best way to play it, that's not a lot
should enter the national championship as the third seed. Only five
teams, all with established programs, are currently ranked higher
than Southern Miss: Princeton, Illinois, Virginia Tech, Florida
and No. 1 ranked Indiana. No. 7 MIT, Georgia Tech, Cornell and Penn
round out the top 10.
for Southern Miss' initial success is its strong international presence.
Although the sport is barely on the radar screen in the United States
in terms of competitive exposure, in other countries - like Sweden,
Korea, Germany and Japan - it is second only to soccer in popularity.
1 in the state, the team's top player, Kim Bong Geun, played for
the South Korean junior national table tennis team. "My sister
is ranked No. 75 in the world. She is sponsored by a Korean company
and plays professionally," Geun said.
also boasts the third-best player in the state, Kenny Thai Viet,
from Vietnam. Maria Montano, a music student from Venezuela, is
the only female player on the eight-person team. Montano's father
played competitive table tennis on an international level.
In the Dixie
Region Conference championships, Southern Miss had little trouble
dispatching its competition, winning 6-0. Played like the Davis
Cup in tennis, the tournament requires each team to play its top
five players, and the team winning the best-of-five series is awarded
points. Teams also play doubles matches. The Dixie Region Conference,
in its first year, consists of Southern Miss, Mississippi State,
South Alabama and West Florida. Southern Miss finished 5-0 overall
in conference play.
faculty adviser Dr. Adel Ali said he was proud of his team's performance
Saturday. "This team has the potential to be very, very good.
We have a lot of strong players with a good background in the sport,"
too early to talk about a table tennis dynasty at Southern Miss,
Ramakrishnan said his team has laid a solid foundation for the future.
With Geun, Viet and him returning next year, the team has its essential
competitive core intact. "We are just one top-notch player
away from taking our team to the next level," he said.
State team captain Wassim Chao said after the competition that he
was impressed with the level of talent on Southern Miss' team. "We
expected them to be very good," Chao said. "It helps your
club when you've got a lot of international players. And, of course,
one of them happens to have played for the Korean national team."