Last Sunday, March 1, five ambitious table tennis players from Brandeis represented the Judges and competed with the best regional teams in the NCTTA Regional Tournament for the second time ever since the club was founded. Although their step toward the National Tournament was halted by Harvard University and Boston University on Sunday as the Brandeis team lost to both by 4-0 and 4-1, the team members won over the University of Rochester. The team succeeded partly because of a dynamic duo: Ricardo Aguayo ’17 and Duong Nguyen ’18.
For Aguayo, table tennis has been his absolute favorite sport for a long time. “My parents 100 percent support me on table tennis because they always want to see me winning,” said Aguayo. “To me, table tennis is such a sport that you can play with anyone at any age. It just makes everyone equal.”
Aguayo has also been learning Chinese and is a fan of the Chinese Table Tennis Super League, which is considered the best table tennis league in the world. “I’m looking forward to going to China this summer maybe. If I could watch a ping pong game live, it would be a dream come true for me!” said Aguayo.
The cordial love for ping pong is shared by Nguyen, a first-year at Brandeis from Vietnam. It is only his first year playing collegiate table tennis and he is already ranked the No. 2 player of the whole lower New England Region and top 4 in the Regional Tournament. “And now I am a National Individual Tournament player,” said Nguyen, summing up his legendary table tennis experience in the United States. “I started playing ping pong six years ago, and I was told ping pong is not a sport but just a game for fun. Then I realized it actually is a very hard sport to play. You not only need to see the ball, you need to feel it from time to time.”
Nguyen was once the national player for U15 in Vietnam and, with such passion and intensity, his excellence in table tennis keeps on growing in his college life. “It’s great to have him on the team. Last year, no one on the team was as serious as he was. Duong always keeps in mind what the team should do in and out of the practice. And playing with him certainly makes me better too,” said Aguayo in reference to Nguyen.
After leading Brandeis into the Regional Tournament for the second time in history, Aguayo and Nguyen’s aspirations of success were not fulfilled. This week, they told The Brandeis Hoot, “We were happy but not satisfied. We know we could have beaten all of the teams in New England. Our goal for next year is to become the No.1 team in New England and make it to the National Tournament.”
This strong confidence comes from the amazing potential these players have, which can be seen from the five-player team this season. Three out of five members are still in their first year in Brandeis. “It is only the first year for two of our members to play on the team and one of us just started playing with the team this semester. Everything will be possible next year when all of us become more experienced and skilled,” said Nguyen.
On the other hand, Aguayo has already started planning for the club renovation in the next year. “I’ll try to become the president next year and the first thing I will do is to change our practice location to lower Gosman maybe. That way, more people can see our practice and more players will come to try out with us. We need players with more diverse styles so that the team can be more prepared for the tournament since play style is a big factor in more competitive games,” said Aguayo.
Tuesday night is the official practice time of the table tennis club for this semester. Every member on the team needs to spend the first half hour practicing drills like keeping the ball on the board for as long as they can. “I know it might be boring, but to get better in any sport, you need to take it seriously and put a lot of effort to improve. We also need to train our physicality a lot, so we usually meet three or more times apart from the regular practice. Whenever our members have time we can just go and play,” said Nguyen.
Under more strict and serious training with a new coach this season, Brandeis Table Tennis earned a win on the stage of the New England Tournament by winning seven team matches and only losing three in November and February. “If we become the number one team in New England, we would love to operate the Regional Tournament in Brandeis! It’s going to be crazy if that happens,” said Nguyen. “Next season is going to be the beginning of something beautiful.”
“I had no idea that Brandeis had a table tennis club when I first got here. Nothing was mentioned in orientation or even on the school website,” revealed Nguyen. “What’s funny is that it was actually my roommate that told me about this club.” The club is certainly in need of expanding its popularity, but funding has become another severe issue. We only received $4,000 in total this year to build this club and we already spent $3,500 on our coach. We still have to pay for all the travel fees including bus tickets and hotels. There was no money to buy new equipment,” said Aguayo.
Nguyen was even more affected by the underfunding. He said, “I don’t even think I can go to the National Individual Contest because the airfare is a lot of money…” Without enough economic support, the space for the team’s progress would be harshly limited. Hopefully, this triumphant season with such an amazing record can help the table tennis club demonstrate their potential to Brandeis, to ping pong players on campus and to everyone who has the will to compete and to win.