Weather Impacts NCTTA Tournament

By Andy Kanengiser

In the lobby of the Eau Claire, Wisconsin hotel, it sounded like a tournament for Weather Channel watchers.


NCTTA players, coaches, referees, volunteers and fans talked about baseball-sized hail, tornadoes in the Midwest, and snow slamming into chilly Wisconsin Thursday night.


Stories of weather woes were the big topic for all folks flocking to this city 90 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota for the 2015 TMS College Table Tennis Championships.


The Lindenwood University players finally arrived at the Clarion hotel at 1:30 a.m. today (Friday April 10) due to travel delays. And most of them were busy drinking coffee to stay awake for the action.


All flights to the Eau Claire airport were cancelled yesterday. So that meant that a number of players were detoured to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and rented cars to travel 90 miles to Eau Claire. Others saw their planes land in Chicago and rented cars for a 4-hour trip to Eau Claire.


"There was a tornado and heavy rain. For five to ten minutes we couldn't see,'' said Arefeh Sherafati, a doctoral student in physics and top-notch table tennis player player for the Washington University women's team in Saint Louis. "The silence was a little scary.''


The Washington University table tennis team kept driving to Wisconsin despite the storms not too far from the St. Louis area. It was their first trip to the Nationals and they were determined to make it. Thankfully, they did.


One more player from the school in Saint Charles, Missouri was arriving to play singles today. Arefeh moved to the USA in August after earning her undergraduate and master's in Iran. "This is good competition,'' she said of the Nationals in Eau Claire.


No matter what the school or the region of the USA or Canada, many players had horror stories to share about the weather.


Vitrang Mehta of the University of Rochester in New York said he escaped the tornadoes, but had to deal with flight cancellations. "We are used to snow.''


The same is true for John Kerpan, a New England Division director from Boston. His city experienced epic snowstorms all winter and into early spring. Some colleges in the Boston area had to cancel classes for a month due to the heavy snow. Still, John  battled Mother Nature once again and arrived in Eau Claire to suit up as a volunteer.


At one point, NCTTA President Willy Leparulo of Tallahassee, Florida asked other NCTTA folks at the Clarion hotel for advice. He smiled and asked people if they could tell him the best way to get ice and snow off his car windshield, Usually the weather is wonderful in the Sunshine State this time of year.


Things got so bad weather-wise that NCTTA webmaster Tae Kim established a "crisis center'' at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport on Thursday to assist table tennis players and others with travel issues. Chris Wang, the NCTTA league representative from San Jose, California, shared a blitz of travel stories for anybody willing to listen to the tales of heartache.


The weather problems made referees like Spencer Ip and Dan Reynolds arrive late.


Despite all the unexpected excitement and instant changes in travel plans on the road, the 2015 TMS college table tennis championships moved forward in Wisconsin.