Mississippi College

Table Tennis Team Returns to Nationals in Minnesota

February 23, 2009

Mississippi College's Table Tennis Team will return to the national championships in Minnesota after its solid victory in Saturday's Dixie Division tournament.

Led by Captain Ken Qiu of China, MC's team combined killer spins with aggressive slams to defeat Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State, the University of Alabama, and University of Alabama-Huntsville. MC's nationally ranked team faced tenacious opponents all day, but managed to finish up top at the Baptist Healthplex on the Clinton campus.

MC's team consists of five players from China, two from Mississippi, and one each from Taiwan and Venezuela. WJTV-Channel 12 and WLBT-TV 3 captured some of the ping pong action during their weekend television broadcasts.

Players like Jessica Zhou, Jenny Wu, Ryan Hou and Ou Lan, all of China, Mississippians Ben VanHorn of Clinton and Stephen Stetelman of Hattiesburg, plus Nancy Tsai of Taiwan, and recent Southern Miss transfer Maria Montano of Venezuela turned in solid performances, said Andy Kanengiser, the team sponsor. Just a couple of months ago, MC players competed against Montano, USM's top performer, in the fall Dixie Division Tournament.

"With the Nationals looming, we will step up our practices at Alumni Gym to get ready for another outstanding field of more than 30 teams in Rochester, Minnesota," said Kanengiser, university news coordinator. The MC community is invited to see the Choctaws practices from 3-7 p.m. on Fridays.

Sponsored by the National Collegiate table tennis Association, the Nationals will be April 3-5 in an Upper Midwest city best known as the home of the famed Mayo Clinic. MC finished in 14th place in the tournament last year, a notch below the University of Southern California. Texas Wesleyan is the nation's No. 1 team and Princeton ranks second.

In its second season, MC's team enjoys strong support from the MC Office of International Programs. The Baptist-affiliated university enrolls 320 international students, led by 250 from China. MC's ping pong success story is getting the attention of prospective students from China and other nations, said Qiu, an MBA-Finance student and staffer with the International Programs Office.

The Dixie Division Tournament attracted new teams like Alabama-Huntsville and brought some inspirational stories. USM team member Michael Cottingham, 29, a doctoral candidate in sports management on the Hattiesburg campus, plays ping pong in a wheelchair. The Madison native suffered a spinal cord injury when he was less than a day old and has spent much of his life in a wheelchair. A Jackson Prep graduate and former tennis coach, he refuses to let handicap get in the way of his love for competitive ping pong.

"It's fun - I enjoy it," Cottingham said of table tennis, an Olympic sport since 1988.

The USM graduate student scored points, but lost his match against one of MC's talented players from China. "She crushed me," Cottingham said with a smile before playing another game on the MC campus.

Photo: Back: Ryan Hou, Ou Lan, Capt. Ken Qiu, Ben VanHorn; Front: Jessica Zho, Sabrena Song, Maria Montano

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