(By Rachel Sung)
Despite efforts to stay fully in shape and ready for competition, more than one year of life amidst a raging, seemingly never ending pandemic erased significant amounts of motivation necessary in improving and maintaining a certain table tennis level. Along with the stress of junior year in high school, the dilemma of finding an effective way to practice during the epidemic nearly pushed me out of the table tennis world. However, when USATT released the official announcement for the National Youth U19 and U15 team trials held in ICC, I felt the familiar yet foreign inner urge to prove myself in a national team trial tournament. Holding regrets from being unable to participate in the earlier adult team trials, I made the decision to compete in the U19 Youth Trials even with the tournament dates overlapping the dates of my final exams in school.
Leading up to the trials, I truly experienced the importance of time management and self-discipline. With limited time for both school and table tennis, the usual hour-long breaks in between study sessions and practice sessions could no longer be tolerated. Looking back on the final 30 days before competition, a sense of pride and accomplishment fills my mind; although demanding, I proved to myself that I did have the ability to successfully balance both schoolwork and table tennis. Holding that personal growth close to myself, I went into the tournament with a more open mind regarding the actual results of the youth trials. Upon arrival at the venue, I saw many familiar faces but surprisingly even more new faces. At that one moment, a bit of distance was felt from my past memories of competing at similar trials with all my close friends by my side. Once the actual competition commenced, the usual rush of nerves and anxiety I experience before any match in an official tournament came flooding in. However, unlike past tournaments played before the pandemic, I felt a sense of excitement to be back on the court. The first day of competition, I managed to smoothly advance in the qualification round robin stage. With zero losses in the group stage, a player has the advantage of directly going into the semi-final round robin stage. Each group had 6 players, meaning we had to play a total of five matches in one day with no breaks in between. Worried about my lack of sufficient stamina, dread overcame my body when tournament staff released the time schedules for semi-finals of U19 team trials. Luckily, adrenaline and a competitive spirit carried me through the five matches.
Sunday, the final day of the trials, top four players from each semi-final round robin played the opposing four players that advanced. A combination of nerves and pressure caused me to struggle more in my first and last match of the final tournament day. Winning both matches at a close score of 3-2, I saw my personal improvement in remaining calm while remaining on the offense during crucial match points. Ending the tournament undefeated, all the extra hours spent training while preparing for important exams proved to be worth every minute
Lastly, I want to thank my coach at the trials, Maggie Tian for her support and encouragement throughout the tournament and all the coaches/clubs who helped me prepare for the tournament. Success is never fully an individual effort.
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