Cheng Li Leads Mississippi College Table Tennis
By Andy Kanengiser
Cheng Li stepped up his game this season as leader of the Mississippi College table tennis team.
A 22-year-old native of China, the MC business major serves as team captain again, but added coaching duties to his to-do list.
North America’s No. 1 collegiate player in men’s singles last season, Cheng Li seeks to achieve an even bigger dream in Spring 2015. He wants to bring home a first-place trophy for MC’s team at the TMS collegiate championship games in Wisconsin.
It’s a daunting task as nearly 250 of the best collegiate players in the USA and Canada do battle in Eau Claire April 10-12.
Players from schools like Princeton, Southern California, Duke, New York University, Rutgers, McMaster University in Canada, the University of California-Berkeley, Michigan and Texas Wesleyan will be on hand. Some were members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team or played for national squads in their native lands.
Mississippi College’s mission is to try to knock off the perennial champions, the Texas Wesleyan University Rams. MC finished No. 2 in America the past three seasons, but the team isn’t satisfied with runner-up. A few weeks ago, MC ended up No. 2 at the South Regionals on Texas Wesleyan’s home turf in Fort Worth.
“We didn’t win, but we learned from our mistakes,’’ Cheng Li said. “We will try our best at the Nationals.’’
With potent players like Emil Santos of the Dominican Republic, and teammates from countries like Germany, China and the USA, Texas Wesleyan hopes to win its 12th consecutive national coed team championships.
In its 8th season of competition, MC’s team is driven by the ferocious slams and solid defense by Cheng Li, and strong teammates Yi Chi Zhang, Tong Zhang and Tyler Brogdon. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Brogdon is the squad’s lone American. Tyler improved his game during Fall 2014 studies in China. The other three players are natives of China where table tennis is king. Yi Chi Zhang ended up the No. 2 best in men’s singles nationwide last year.
It’s a sport that Cheng Li played with passion for years growing up in China.
“Table tennis is a physical and mental game,’’ says the 6’3”-tall player. With hollow white tennis balls sailing by at speeds of close to 100 mph, the fast-paced Olympic sport isn’t for the timid. “You must be brave at certain moments – you must,’’ the MC coach says.
“Cheng Li remains a soft-spoken giant off the court, but turns into a competitive tiger once he’s got a paddle in hand and games are on the line,’’ says Andy Kanengiser, the MC table tennis sponsor. “We feel blessed to have him lead our team at Mississippi College.’’
When he’s not smacking balls at practices at Alumni Gym or traveling to tournaments around the USA, Cheng Li balances the books on the Clinton campus with his favorite sport.
A Christian, he enjoys worship services at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton and at First Baptist Church in Jackson. Helping shape his spiritual values, his mom and grandmother are both Christians. He’s thankful to his friend, Tim Peabody, then a youth pastor at Morrison Heights, for instilling valuable lessons learned at Bible study.
Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College, its 5,000 students, and stellar professors are the right fit for Cheng Li. “I like the people, the culture, the Christian background and the weather is great – clear skies and fresh air.’’
What’s ahead for Cheng Li once his college-playing days are over? “Hopefully, I will be involved in table tennis for the next five to ten years, enjoy playing and still be a part of it.’’
Cheng Li and Tong Zhang claimed the TMS 2015 College Table Tennis Men's Doubles title over Texas Wesleyan in the finals of Men's Doubles in Eau Claire, Wisconsin!
The 2015 TMS College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Visit Eau Claire 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, Double Fish, Joola and PepPod.
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the TMS College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 10th and continues through Sunday April 12th at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus.
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