Maryland Saves a Potential Upset Loss through Mental Toughness

By Michael Reff

On ranking alone it would appear Maryland’s team of table tennis student athletes would blow their competition out of the water, but instead, a closely contended doubles’ match yielded a hard fought win for the University of Maryland Testudos.

Brandeis was a force to be reckoned with and according to their third seeded player Duong Nguyen, they weren’t surprised to be playing in the national’s even though ranked so low. He said “we practice two times a week Tuesdays at a club in Boston about 10-15 matches and on Thursdays at Brandeis.” They were well prepared to take on a formidable opponent such as Maryland.

The double’s tiebreaker match between Maryland and Brandeis was more in the favor of Maryland, because Nathan Hsu and Rui Xu have NCTTA ratings of 2513 and 2496 respectively, whereas Brandeis had Shengkai Feng, and Brian Gao, rated 2421 and 2070 respectively.  But, as any table tennis aficionado will be quick to observe, it’s not always about the individual ratings of players in a double’s match, but the overall synergy between the two players and how long they’ve practiced with each other.

Maryland clinched the first double’s game in the best 3-out-5 deciding match, but Brandeis quickly pulled some tricks out of their sleeve in game two. At 2-1, they fired an impressive side swiping block to climb to a 3-1 lead in the second game. Brandeis evened out the score to deuce with a light touch, finally eking out a 14-12 game two.

In the third game, mental toughness truly started to swing in Maryland’s direction. At first Brandeis was winning point after point arriving at 10-4, game count 1-1. But then momentum shifted, and Maryland saved six consecutive game points to even it out at deuce. At 11-11 Brandeis executed a beautiful forehand flip to take advantage again. Interspersed between all these excellent points, Nathan Hsu of Maryland emitted pumped up chos. A pushing war ended the deuce game in favor of Maryland up now 2-1 in sets.

In the fourth game, Brandeis fought back to get up 4-2 even though they were faltering in serves. A ridiculous return by Maryland at 4-5 evened the score out. At 7-5 Brandeis paused to offer advice to each but the next two points were won by Maryland. An ensuing service error by Maryland gave Brandeis the 7-8 advantage, and then at 9-8 Brandeis rapidly counter looped to make it 8-10. Brandeis took the final point of the game and the two teams were headed to a fifth-game decider.

In this final game, nerves and toughness were all that mattered. Again Brandeis claimed an early lead, executing some impressive points, including one at 7-2 when Maryland looped way off the table and Brandeis blocked it to the open court. At 8-2 things took a turn for the worse for Brandeis, and a timeout was called at 8-4. At 9-6 Brandeis attempted to flip but did not convert a point, and when things were tied up at 9-9, Brandeis shanked a ball. A crowd was starting to gather at this point, and at deuce Maryland employed one of their frequently used tricky backhand serves to take advantage over Brandeis. Finally, Maryland sealed the deal with a 12-10 win over their opponents.

A close team match was indeed fought hard by both sides, and mental fortitude was the buzzword of the day.

The 2018 iSET 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 iSET, Double Happiness, Gerflor, Double Fish and USA Table Tennis

Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the iSET College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 20th and continues through Sunday April 22nd.


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.

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).