Freshman seeks spot on national table tennis team

December 12, 2018 — by Rahul Vadlakonda and Oliver Ye

Freshman Henrick Zhang is a table tennis ace.

In fact, he is ranked 16th in the nation in his division. His ranking is based on three separate national tournaments from 2017.

Despite his success in the sport, Zhang’s attitude toward the game did not start off positive. After his father initially coaxed him into playing table tennis several year ago, he began to gradually enjoy the sport the more he played.

But the road hasn’t always been easy. In 2017 he failed to qualify for the U.S. national table tennis team. He also admits he he sometimes takes ribbing for play a sports that others do always see as a sport.

“Playing a sport that isn’t as popular is hard,” Zhang said. “Some people just start insulting, ‘Oh, you play [table tennis]; that’s not a sport,’ but if you bypass that, then there’s really no problem.”

After Zhang ranked ninth place during the 2017 national tournament, missing the U.S. national table tennis team cutoff by a mere 5 points, he decided to channel more of his energy into academics.

Even so, he is still trying to earn a spot on the national team and is practicing 10 hours per week at the Swan Table Tennis Club in Sunnyvale. He is thankful for how many opportunities the center has provided for him.

“We have the fifth best person under 15 in the world [at our center] right now, so there are a lot of people that I can practice with,” he said.

He has also found that table tennis allows him to improve his studying habits. Since the method of gameplay in table tennis requires him to concentrate on the high-speed, crazily spinning ball for more than one hour at a time, Zhang has been able to increase his ability for deeper concentration.

While he is a player who is so close to making it to the national team, Zhang tries not to fixate on rankings and instead focus on more abstract benefits.

“When I play [table tennis], it helps me escape my problems at home; it’s kind of my way out of a teenage life,” Zhang said.

With an inconsistent rate of monthly tournaments, Zhang does not know when his next chance to increase his national rank and will be. However, as time goes on, he hopes the work he puts in for upcoming tournaments will work only in his favor and finally secure his dream of making it to the national team.

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