Without a paddle
Budding table tennis club's lack of visas diminishes chance at nationals
Wei Luo (above) and the table tennis team saw their odds of reaching nationals decrease because two of their key players could not secure visas. Courtesy of Shaun Koh
Many of them travel over 9,000 miles from Southeast Asia. Some navigate the Pacific, traverse the Rockies or cross the Mississippi.
But they couldn't go the last 86 miles.
Last Saturday, four of the table tennis club's top players could not make the trip to Mississauga, Ontario, to play in the Great Lakes Regional Tournament. These players were not able to secure visas, and thus, could not travel with the team to Canada.
"Performing well in the divisionals and then not being able to go to the regionals is disappointing," said Sumanshu Vishnu Panth, an electrical engineering graduate student. "I really hope they win the regionals so that I can get back to the team for nationals."
While in Mississauga, the members of the team who were able to travel and compete faired inadequately without their teammates. Theytook losses to Ottawa University and Cornell, both by scores of 1-3. They did pick up two wins over Case Western Reserve (4-0) and McGill University (3-1), giving them an overall record of 2-2. But that .500 record was not enough to gain an automatic qualifier to the national tournament.
"It did diminish our odds not having our best players," said Shaun Koh, a senior management major and the club's president. "But we can still qualify for nationals through rankings."
The team must now put its hopes into gaining a wild card berth to the nationals in Chicago, Ill. The squad will need to be ranked in the top 25 to gain a bid.
The co-ed team is the best that UB has to offer since joining the National Collegiate Table Tennis and much more competitive than the one that went to the national tournament three years ago.
The NCTTA is the governing body that oversees the play of collegiate table tennis. Teams from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico are represented in the NCTTA.
Many of the table tennis squads that Buffalo faced in Mississauga are semi-professional, which means that opponents are spending multiple hours a week practicing drills on the table and partaking in cardiovascular training and supplemental strength.
Many odds are against the Buffalo squad but more importantly the lack of an official coach and funding. They're hobbyists.
About two years ago, a lack of players forced the team to take a hiatus for a few years, but Koh revitalized a once-proud club. He scoured the UB campus in search of the best table tennis talent.
"I spoke to [Eugene Colucci, the club's faculty adviser] and he gave us some advice," Koh said. "Along the way, he helped me get the old players back who used to represent UB. It's my last year here so I wanted to try and get a team together."
Koh's efforts have paid off. After Koh attained three new recruits to join the team, UB defeated Cornell 4-0 - a team it had lost to 0-4 in the fall.
Later in the season, at the Cornell regionals, the team not only placed two athletes second and third, but it did not drop a single game.
"I felt really delighted," Panth said. "[Koh] told me that they had lost to Cornell the last couple of years, so the final match between us and Cornell was very tense. I used to play back in India, but there was all the pressure on me to win this game. I could see the happy faces on everyone when I won."
However, even with all the success, table tennis is still a temporary club under the Student Association and receives no budget from SA or the university.
Players on the team are required to put up their own money for various travel- and team-related expenses. Koh said each player expects to spend a total of $400-$500 for the entire season.
Recently, the Canadian Consulate General's office changed the way in which visas are granted. All schools took this as a surprise, especially the Bulls.
Many of the members have been playing for over 10 years and do not plan to let a lack of visas or funding cut their season short.
If the team qualifies for nationals, the players without visas will be able to return to the team. But for now, all the table tennis team can do is wait for a return.
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