By Andy Kanengiser
NCTTA Media Chairman
After three years of coming close, Mississippi College's Yi Chi Zhang finally paddled his way to the peak of his table tennis game as the 2016 men's singles champion.
The triumph happened Saturday evening at the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association's championship games in Round Rock, Texas.
A 22-year-old native of China, Zhang defeated other strong NCTTA opponents, including two potent Mississippi College teammates in the semi-finals and finals.
Zhang edged MC Coach & Captain Cheng Li in the weekend tournament as fans in the huge arena watched a barrage of long volleys between the two competitors. It was a rematch of their showdown at the 2014 national championships near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Back then,Li emerged as the No. 1 men's collegiate singles player among schools across the USA and Canada.
On Saturday, Li knocked off Texas Wesleyan standout Emil Santos of the Dominican Republic to set up the return match with Yi Chi Zhang.
This time, their semi-final match was tied at three games apiece with Zhang winning the finale.
The victory over Li opened the door for Zhang to defeat MC freshman sensation Qing Wei Sun in four straight games.
Playing two Mississippi College teammates back to back was a bit of an awkward situation for the new singles champ even though they have all squared off in practices on the Clinton campus all season.
"They all are my friends,'' Yi Chi Zhang told NCTTA commentator Bryan Song in a post-game interview captured by live streaming cameras. All four members of the mighty Mississippi College team (including Tong Zhang) are natives of China.
Moments later, Coach Li offered his congrats to Zhang, a computer science major who thrives on an awesome backhand.
Later that evening, Li, Zhang, Sun & others in the MC table tennis family enjoyed the fellowship, speeches & awards presentations at the NCTTA's annual banquet at a Round Rock hotel.
Last April, the MC Choctaws beat 11-time champion Texas Wesleyan at the 2015 NCTTA games in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The two collegiate powerhouses are likely to battle again as the three-day tournament closes out the season on March 27.
The 2016 TMS College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Round Rock CVB and is one of the premier table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles, and Men’s/Coed Teams, Women’s Teams. The event is sponsored by TMS International, Gerflor, Double Fish, and Joola.
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the TMS College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday March 25th and continues through Sunday March 27th at the Round Rock Sports Center
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively for promoting the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes intercollegiate competition throughout North America. www.nctta.org
About USA Table Tennis
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States, serving 9,000+ members and nearly 300 clubs. USATT sanctions 200+ events a year including the US Open and US Nationals. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). www.usatt.org