Pictured above: Texas Wesleyan Women's team
By Andy Kanengiser
NCTTA Media Chairman
Texas Wesleyan University table tennis players expressed their joy by tossing Coach Jasna Rather into the air after winning the 2016 coed team championship.
Rather landed safely with a big smile on her face at the Round Rock Sports Center on March 27. The coach received a nice lift minutes that Sunday evening after her TWU teams practically made it a clean sweep. The Rams paddled their way to capture four of the six titles at the TMS College Table Tennis National Championships in Round Rock.
Facing rival Mississippi College for the fifth year in a row, Texas Wesleyan’s mighty players refused to repeat what happened a year ago. At the 2015 championships, MC shocked the table tennis world by edging Texas Wesleyan after the formidable Fort Worth squad won 11 consecutive coed team titles.
TWU’s narrow loss in April 2015 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin seemed to put Rather and her talented team on a 24/7 mission to regain the coed team title. And they did it in dramatic fashion as fans cheered loudly in the Lone Star State.
At the championship games in late March near Austin, the TWU Rams defeated newcomer Ohlone College of California and Toronto before squaring off against the Mississippi College Choctaws. Consisting of four superb players from China, the Mississippi College team knocked off California and the University of Texas to reach the finals in the Sports Capital of Texas.
Accolades keep pouring in from fans who watched the action in Round Rock or others seeing the Olympic sport via the NCTTA’s live streaming cameras.
NCTTA President Willy Leparulo led the salute to the new 2016 champs.
“Texas Wesleyan stormed back to the top of college table tennis,’’ Leparulo said. “I predicted last year after Mississippi College won the team competition that it would awake a sleeping giant (Texas Wesleyan.’’
And when all was said and done, Texas Wesleyan flexed its muscles with its contingent of stars. The TWU Rams are the United Nations of table tennis with players coming from China, Germany, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, the Ukraine and elsewhere.
But it didn’t come easy. “Mississippi College was still very much in the mix’’ Leparulo said. What was shaping up to look like an MC victory went a different way in a hurry.
“It just goes to show you how sports are,’’ says Leparulo, who coaches the Florida State University table tennis team. “Texas Wesleyan was within moments of a losing affair, but turned it around. Anyone watching could feel the tension. It was a magical ending.’’
Led by Coach & Captain Cheng Li, the MC Choctaws grabbed a 2-1 lead in the finals, it didn’t last long. TWU’s Zhe Feng defeated MC’s Qing Wei Sun to force the finals to go to doubles. Coach Rather decided to put the paddles in the hands of Zhe Feng, a former Chinese National Team member, and Jishan Liang, her top-rated singles player. The dynamic TWU duo proved too much for MC’s Cheng Li and doubles partner Tong Zhang. The Rams won three straight game, much to the delight of their fan base, and the Texas Wesleyan celebration erupted.
The four triumphs in Round Rock chalked up by TWU with its coed team, women’s team, men’s doubles and women’s doubles adds to their remarkable achievements dating back to 2003. The TWU Rams have won 12 coed team titles, 10 men’s singles titles (the last by Zhe Feng in 2015), 7 women’s singles titles (the last by Sara Hazinski in 2011), 9 men’s doubles titles, 8 women’s doubles titles and 8 mixed doubles titles.
The only titles escaping TWU in 2016 were: the women’s singles title by Ting Wang of Ohlone College and the men’s singles title going to Mississippi College’s Yi Chi Zhang.
Rather poured on the praise for her squad. The group includes one of her stars, Emil Santos of the Dominican Republic, who completed his collegiate playing career over the weekend. Santos, she said, served TWU as an effective team leader. Santos, she said, ranks with some of the finest collegiate players she’s coached at Texas Wesleyan.
Others coming home with No. 1 awards: the TWU men’s doubles team of Bruno Ventura Dos Anjos of Brazil and Shuai Wang of China, and the women’s doubles team of Anastasia Rybka of the Ukraine and Edina Haracic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Texas Wesleyan’s aces led a powerful lineup of six schools from the Lone Star State. The others were: Texas A&M, the University of Texas, North Texas, Texas Tech, and UT-Dallas.