Cheng Li of Mississippi College and Ariel Hsing of Princeton Capture Table Tennis Singles Titles
April 7, 2014
Mississippi College standout Cheng Li paddled his way to victory as the best collegiate table tennis player in North America.
The triumph Saturday night for the 22-year-old native of China at the 2014 TMS College Table Tennis Championships near Pittsburgh broke new ground for the powerful Mississippi College team. In its 7th season, it marked the first time the Baptist-affiliated school will return home with a championship trophy.
Li made an incredible comeback from a five-point deficit to edge Texas Wesleyan ace Yahao Zhang, 21, of Denver in a thrilling semi-final. It opened the door for Cheng Li to defeat Mississippi College freshman Yichi Zhang, 20, of China to win the crown.
MC teammates in the stands applauded both players during the contest aired by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association’s live streaming cameras and commentators.
“Cheng Li is a hard worker and a good, all-around nice kid,” NCTTA President Willy Leparulo said Sunday morning as college teams from across the USA and Canada continued to battle for points.
Cheng Li showed fans at the Club Sport & Health in Monroeville, Pennsylvania why he was seeded No. 1 heading into the three-day tournament. So did Princeton star Ariel Hsing, 18, a member of the U.S. Olympic Table Tennis Team. A Fremont, California resident, Ariel defeated China’s Yuhua Li of Northeastern University of Boston to capture the women’s singles title.
Cheng Li and Ariel Hsing always play with loads of passion and tons of energy as they slam hollow white table tennis balls at speeds of 70 miles per hour. Their relentless attacks and emotions on display get fans fired up, too. It was nice seeing the players pumped up as they tallied points, Leparulo said. “Being loud and proud is a good thing.”
The all-Mississippi College final in the men’s singles division delighted head coach Ken Qiu, assistant coach Zchicheng “Johnson” Liang, and the entire six-member team.
“It’s the best thing that can happen for us,” said MC player Joe Xie as he watched the matches at the Club Sport & Health. Home to seven indoor tennis courts, the fitness club was transformed into a table tennis paradise for North America’s 250 best collegiate players.
Seeing players from the same schools compete for NCTTA titles isn’t something new. In 2012, two players from Lindenwood squared off. On other occasions, players from perennial champion Texas Wesleyan University faced each other.
A native of Sichuan, China and business student, Yichi Zhang, 20, beat University of Southern California star Grant Li of Boston in the semi-finals to go up against his friend and Mississippi College teammate Cheng Li. The match between Zhang, the No. 4 seeded player, and Li, the No. 8 seeded player, went down to the wire.
In other action, Mississippi College’s speedy duo of Junyu Xiao, 23, a graduate student in business administration, and freshman Zescheng Huang, 19, finished in 2nd place in the men’s doubles division Saturday. Both are natives of China. Texas Wesleyan stars Zhedi Bai, 20, of China and Razvan Cretu, 38, of Boston won the doubles championship.
Winners of ten consecutive coed team championships, the Texas Wesleyan Rams were seeking an 11th straight title in the Pittsburgh suburb. Ranked No. 2 in 2012 and 2013, and holding that position prior to the April 2014 games, Mississippi College was among several strong contenders in Pennsylvania. Lindenwood of Missouri, New York University, California-Berkeley, Toronto, Princeton and Tulane also brought outstanding student-athletes.
Photo: Cheng Li of Mississippi College. Photo credit Keith Lam.