(By Sally Moyland)
It’s been some time since I’ve competed in an international tournament. The Pan American is regional in scope, and it was good to see new players from these other countries. Competing in the Dominican Republic was pretty cool as I got to go out and for the first time participate as a member of Team USA. In the two other international tournaments that I’ve played, though I represented the USA, I took on the bill and played as an individual. In this Pan American tournament, USATT funded players to go and compete as a team.
I’m gonna take a few steps back and start from the flight over. There were teammates that came from Houston, Chicago, and Ohio. But most of us went over from California – seven players (five girls and two boys), including myself and the girls’ team head coach. The California group met up at SFO and departed for Newark, New Jersey at around midnight of September ninth. Though the plane had a nice inflight entertainment system, I was dead asleep for around five of the six hours it took to get to New Jersey.
Since there is a three hour time difference between the west and east coast, we arrived at around ten in the morning local time. First thing we did was get something to eat. Because I forgot to pay with the team, my bill of ten dollars for an apple juice and a bag of lifesavers was cleared from my own pocket. Our transfer flight was around noon, so after the brief snack, we headed toward the gate. There, we met up with a few more players and coaches that were from New Jersey- two girls, two boys, and the U19 boys’ team coach. After some chill time at the airport, we headed toward our final destination… the Dominican Republic.
Compared to the flight from California, our transfer flight was a significantly smaller aircraft with one aisle and two rows of seats. This was all normal since our final location was only three hours south. Though I had only slept for around five hours that night, I was awake enough that I only took a short nap on the second flight.
Once we landed in Santo Domingo and got through security, we loaded ourselves onto a small shuttle bus. Other team members that hadn’t met in New Jersey had different flight schedules, so it was the thirteen of us that moved to the hotel together. It was quite a long ride, at least an hour or two. I didn’t sleep, but was mostly eating and chit-chatting the whole time. The Team USA players voted on whether we wanted to go to the competition arena for extra practice that evening. I voted not to since, even though I wasn’t drowsy, I was tired and we would have a two hour practice session the next day. I just thought that a good rest might have been the more logical way. But, to my surprise, most of the players voted to go practice. Luckily for me, the coaches’ initial decision was still to go back and get some good rest.
The first hour at the hotel for us players was basically hanging out in the lobby. We played some card games as the coaches helped sort out the rooms and pass out the room keys. Besides our big group from California and New Jersey, only two more team members were there – one girl and the U15 boys’
team coach. The whole team USA had a total of nineteen members – sixteen players and three coaches. The three boys that weren’t there yet arrived at around nine that night.
After getting our room keys, we all headed to our rooms and started to settle down. The rooms were all very big. Each room had two players – my roommate was my doubles partner. In the room, there was a living room with a couch and two tables, a counter-top with a mirror, a bathroom, and a bedroom. There were two double beds, a closet, a TV, and some drawers in the bedroom. The windows were basically sliding glass doors (like what you might have for your backyard patio). Since the doors were see-through, there was a curtain. You were supposed to pull on a line to make the curtain open from one end. Unfortunately, my roommate and I were too excited to see the view and forcefully tugged on the wrong end. Yep, we wrecked the curtains on the first day. It never did get fixed, so I had to clamp it closed every night. Anyways, the view was nice. Outside the door was a field of grass and a pool just about four yards out. There was also a small beach volleyball court off to the side. We never did get to enjoy this area, but did use the two chairs outside for drying our clothes. After checking the room out, my roommate and I went to the pool bar to get some snacks. We got the food, and snagged a drink on the way back to our room.
For meals, we would go to the dining area and help ourselves. The hotel offered a buffet for all three meals. However, there were waiters. They would clean up the dirty plates and offer drinks. You could get water yourself, but would have to ask if you wanted anything else. I would have a sprite if competition was light that day. I had no idea, but there was this drink called a non-alcoholic pina colada, and my teammates would drink that a lot. And my roommate.. oh my, she had to have at least two or three of those everyday!
After having dinner, our whole team had a meeting in one of the rooms off of the lobby. We were informed of the rules and the things to pay attention to, like staying in our own rooms, or don’t mingle with other countries, etc. We also took turns reading different parts of the code of conduct out loud to the team.
The next day we didn’t have a competition, but we did have practice. Oh, something I haven’t mentioned yet. Actually, two things. First, I didn’t receive my team shirts and tracksuit in time for the departure. Fortunately, the folks at Bowmar Sports managed to express ship some gear to the hotel, so I only had to borrow shirts for a few days of the competition. Second, our whole team was restricted to move in a “bubble”. Basically, this means that we can only be in the hotel, on the bus to and from the arena, or at the arena. To be honest, I think every player and coach that participated in the competition stayed in the bubble. Everyone I saw at the competition arena, I seemed to see at the dining hall. Of course, this was all because of Covid. Back to the first day of practice. We took the bus for the first time to the playing hall. It was supposed to be a forty-five minute ride, but instead, it took around one and a half hours to get there.
Inside the arena, there was no air conditioning. And with the hot and rainy weather, it was exceptionally stuffy and humid. But the facility itself was nice, and we had a good two hour practice. After our practice time finished, we had team pictures and stuff like that. We left to go back to the hotel at around two or so. On the bus, something pretty interesting happened. Seemed to be that someone had forgotten their paddle at the arena. Luckily, our coach was just teasing the player when she said she had left the paddle with the staff there, as our coach had actually brought the paddle with her.
Back at the hotel, we had some dinner. Then we headed to our team meeting. After that, everyone turned in their phones to the coaches and went back to their own rooms. It was rather late, so all I did was wash my clothes before crashing into bed.
Waking up at 6am, it was the first day of competition. Though I was more excited than nervous, I still couldn’t help but feel a bit tired. The one hour bus ride was mostly sleep time for me. I had two matches that day. Both were the group stage of the teams event. Our team successfully advanced out of our group in first place. We got back to the hotel by mid-afternoon, so I had plenty of time for a good rest. The only sort of interesting thing that happened at the hotel was that I killed a couple of big spiders in our room.
The next day of competition was also teams, but now it was single elimination. After having a bye in the Quarters, our team made a good showing against Guatemala and advanced to the finals. On the last day of the team competition there were only the finals left for each age group, and we played Canada. Before this last match I had been borrowing my roommate’s shirt (I thank her very much for lending it!). But, for this finals match, it was decided to wear last year’s USA team shirt. Unfortunately, my roommate didn’t receive the message to bring it. So, she ended up borrowing one of our other teammate’s shirts. Throughout all the previous matches, no one had complained that I was wearing a shirt with the wrong name. USATT has already communicated to the federation that I didn’t have my shirts, and they agreed that I could still play using borrowed shirts. However, in the finals the Canadian coach decided that he wanted to try and raise this as an issue. He went to complain about the wrong name on my roommate’s shirt. After a ten-minute argument, my roommate ended up duct-taping over the name. We all thought the complaint was not too meaningful, but I guess it’s some sort of tactic to distract one’s mental state. No matter what, we still did well against Canada. Without dropping a match, we secured the U15 Girls’ team gold.
Next up was singles. The first day of singles was very light on matches, as I only had two. Some of the players that had a higher world ranking were already seeded, but for me I had to play the group stage. I didn’t quite cruise through, but I did manage to advance.
The next couple of days were very long as the doubles portion also started. It worked out to be an average of seven matches each day – a few each of singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. Getting up at six and going to bed at midnight – when I said long days, I was not kidding.
Even the weather got grumpy. It started getting more rainy and humid. On top of that, it was quite stuffy.There were a couple of guys selling souvenirs and a guy selling ice cream outside the main door of the arena. I knew I shouldn’t be spending money on ice cream, but I gave in and approached the stand. I want to say it’s unfortunate, but what happened probably saved me from making a decision that I would regret. Even though I had broken down to buy myself an ice cream, I was still hesitating. At this moment, our coach came out and said to me, “If you want to have a bad stomach tomorrow, you can have your ice cream.” That made me give up the idea of ice cream immediately. Coaches are quite impressive when they can make you not do something without actually telling you not to do something.
Singles competition is the norm for me, but doubles and mixed doubles were new. I hadn’t paired with either of my partners in the past. Since I knew my roommate better (and since we have been roommates and teammates for almost a week), I wasn’t too nervous playing with her. But for mixed doubles, I was super nervous. It was probably the thing I was most scared of doing this tournament as I didn’t know him very well. Along with that, I didn’t know how he played or his competition attitude. On top of all that, I was a player with little confidence in doubles. However, he was a really nice guy and we got along well. Throughout the long days and tight schedules, I still managed to pull through in every event – U15 girls’ singles, U15 girls’ doubles, and U15 mixed doubles. The last day was reserved for a few of the semi-finals and all the finals.
My goal was to fight for four golds. However, I lost in the semi-finals of the girls’ singles. My opponent was one of my teammates. On the court, she was fierce as a lion; not scared of losing but fighting to win. She played well in the match with me. As for me, I couldn’t catch on fast enough, as I didn’t prepare for her best. So when she came at me with it, I dropped the first two games in quick fashion. After calming down and thinking things through, I came back to fight hard and bring the game score to 2-2. In the deciding game, I started out spacey. With a score of 1-6 to 4-8 then to 5-9, things weren’t looking good. I had to do something different. I changed up the tactics a bit and that did give good effect. The score difference was shrunk to one and I brought the score to 9-10. Her winning shot of the match was a surprising counter smash from the forehand side. I could feel my heart drop in dismay as she took the victory.
After the match, I went to the upstairs lounge and sat there for an hour or so. Desperately trying to distract myself from the negative emotion, I played Candy Crush and did some drawing. It was a hard time, and I couldn’t just stay depressed for long. I had two more doubles finals to play, and this wasn’t just about me. I had partners and I had a responsibility not to let either of them down. And thinking back, isn’t life just like table tennis? Things don’t always go your way, just like you don’t always win. In table tennis, keeping calm, thinking about the details, and staying focused are the key components.
After a setback, how fast I could bounce back was the most important thing at that moment. I wouldn’t let myself have any thinking of giving up or playing randomly in the upcoming matches just because I had lost that match. Losing happens to every player in every sport. How you stay strong is what counts the most. After the one hour of heartbreak, I sat back up motivated to fight hard.
My first match of the two remaining was my mixed doubles match. I and my partner went to warm up, and I could feel myself getting over the earlier loss and starting to focus on the match at hand. Our finals match was USA vs USA, as our teammates had become our opponents. This kind of thing happens quite often on the court – playing against your own team. When competing with your own team, there isn’t any coaching. So, communication between players and figuring out strategies on our own was the key test.
We had a strong showing throughout the whole match and took the gold in straight games. I could feel the improvement in our play and the communication between us. The way we worked together was definitely smoother than when we started.
My mixed doubles victory gave me a strong boost of momentum. I went from doubt I had for my ability in doubles to confidence. It came from experience on the court and the learning I could take from each match.
My last match of the tournament was girls’ doubles. Despite things being close, we still pulled through without dropping a game. My partner and I were just slightly off on stability. But, working as a team and covering for each other’s mistakes, we had a good ending in the doubles event. It was also a good ending as my last match of the tournament.
It was over. It wasn’t perfect. But I ended it with a smile. My goal was four golds, and I finished with three. Getting into the finals of the singles event was a very crucial qualification that I needed for the World Youth tournament ( quick reminder: I only made it to the semis). But, putting that aside because I can’t control or change that, continuing to focus on my future training and how to improve myself will be the most important thing going forward.
Before heading back to the hotel, we still had one more thing to do. That was the awards ceremony. Standing on the podium was a proud experience. All the other players and coaches from all around North and South America were in the audience. Walking in and out, seeing our coaches desperately trying to take pictures, pushing to the front row of the crowd – that seriously gave me a hard giggle on the inside, but on the outside I had to stay professional and poker faced. I didn’t want to make a gaffe in front of so many people, so I forcefully swallowed my urge to laugh. After we finished the ceremony and all the team pictures, it was time to head home.
Back at the hotel, our whole team went up to the second floor for our last team meeting. The coaches gave us their thanks and wished us good luck. They also asked us for our competition summaries by the end of Tuesday – that was in two days. Ugh… more work.
We were also informed of our flight schedule back to the States. The New Jersey and California group had a 6am flight, so we would take the 3am bus. Since it was already around midnight by then, most of us didn’t sleep. We just went on to packing. After getting that done, I stayed in the lobby with some of my teammates that were there waiting for the bus. Other teams from countries such as Peru, Brazil, Canada, and Guatemala were there as well. I’ve heard of exchanging shirts – country to country – in the past, but I didn’t expect it to happen to me. So I was quite shocked when someone did approach me with this request. It was a young lady from Peru who asked to exchange with me. Unfortunately, it was my first international competition in a while so I didn’t have any spares. Sadly, I had to unwillingly reject the offer.
On the bus I accidentally passed out. I didn’t mean to, as I wanted to sleep on the plane. After getting to the airport, most of us passed through security smoothly. The plane was super cold. I would fall asleep, then wake from the chill. By the third time it happened, I couldn’t stand it. I asked a flight attendant for a blanket, and unfortunately they didn’t have one. Yikes…. I was freezing. Finally, after a torturing three hour flight, we arrived at Newark. We gave our goodbyes to the ones that would stay before we continued to our flight back. After all that, I finally made it to SFO. The moment I saw my parents, I broke into a big smile and ran in for a hug. We gave our thanks to the team coach and other players, then we headed home.
I just want to finish with a big thank you to all the coaches, players, and parents that assisted throughout. Also, a special thanks to Bowmar Sports – thank you for the quick shipping of the gear! That’s it for now, see you all at the next tournament!
Stay “In The Loop” with Butterfly professional table tennis equipment, table tennis news, table tennis technology, tournament results, and We Are Butterfly players, coaches, clubs and more.