(By Sally Moyland)
Hello, I’m back at it…
November 29th was the day we left Houston for Porto, Portugal. However, we did have to transfer at Frankfurt. Our flight to Frankfurt had a 30-40 minute delay. This made the already very short transfer time – 1h – even tighter. We would only have 20 minutes to change planes…. During the long flight, besides the normal eating and sleeping, I found energy to do some crocheting. Also, the flight had touch screens, and I do not let a free Disney movie go by unwatched. Long plane flights are the best places to catch up.
Upon arrival in Frankfurt, the sky was clear and the sun was shining bright. But, we had a key task to focus on… catching our next flight! The orders were to run. Run to the gate and get on the plane, no need to wait. Luckily, all of us got on. By the way, I’m almost 100% sure that they purposely arranged our gate to be the farthest away possible from the gate we arrived at. That sprint was a full on workout.
After arriving in Portugal, we encountered another problem. Where were our bags? They weren’t on the conveyor belt. We waited around whilst our coaches tried to sort things out. Conclusion – luggage wouldn’t arrive until the next flight at 10pm. Knowing where our bags were, we headed to the hotel. The downside was that we couldn’t shower before our luggage got to us.
Like the tournament in Santo Domingo, everyone there for the tournament (including players and coaches) stayed in a bubble. Back and forth – from airport to hotel and from hotel to competition arena, all individuals would use the transportation provided. Also, any unauthorized wandering outside of the fixed locations was strongly prohibited. Of course, all of these restrictions were due to Covid control.
The ride from airport to hotel wasn’t too long, only around 10 minutes. Reaching the hotel didn’t mean we could go to our rooms. We first filled out some paperwork, then went to take a Covid rapid test. Most of the team members came out with teary eyes. Everyone said the swabs went up super far. Luckily for me, I didn’t seem to have the extreme reaction. Some gave me looks, as if I were a fake trying to look strong, while others looked at me as if I were superhuman. Either way, it was probably the first time in my life that I felt awkward to say I was feeling fine.
During our wait time, the competition draws were coming out. A lot of us seemed quite anxious to get a good draw. It was the first year for us U15 players, but not for the U19. Their history in this tournament had been really unlucky. They would always end up against a top seed in the quarterfinals, so close and yet so far from a medal. For sure, both the U19 and U15 teams had the ability to make it to the semifinals with a good draw. On top of that, because of Covid, fewer teams registered to participate. The hopes were high and the atmosphere got tense when our Coach sent us pictures of the draw. I didn’t have a wifi connection, so I couldn’t open the info. But based on the cheering and the smiles that spread on each face, I could tell the draws must have been good. Even better, everyone was free of Covid! The feeling of relief and happiness hung by our sides as we relocated to each of our assigned rooms.
I again stayed in a three person suite. However, this time I had my own room, which of course meant my own bed, too! The room was almost like a small apartment. Consisting of two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room with a huge sofa and a fridge. My roommates chose to stay in one room so I took the other for myself.
I can’t quite recall what I did that evening, but I do know that our coaches were awesome and went to get our luggage for us. I got ahold of mine at around eleven, took a shower, and had some supper. Then got in bed but couldn’t fall asleep. I probably fell asleep close to 1am.
Our first day was mostly warm-up and trying to get over jetlag. Porto has a +8h difference from California local time and a +6h from Houston. There are many different kinds of people when dealing with jet lag: the can’t fall asleep kind, the can’t wake up kind, the can sleep anywhere so it doesn’t matter kind, and the has jet lag but feels fine with three hours of sleep kind. This last one is me. It’s like I can’t sleep, but I can still get up. Really weird, like I got over the jet lag but I didn’t.
We headed towards the warm-up arena and we got a couple of hours in before our scheduled time was up. I was actually feeling surprisingly good. It was a nice confidence boost.
We headed back around 2pm and caught lunch. The bus ride from hotel to arena and back was only a twenty minute ride, so that was good. Not so good was the hotel food. Really not good. I know nobody liked it. I mean, how do you mess up scrambled eggs? And pasta? And rice? Like HOW?! Anyways, I lived off bread and ham for three days for both lunch and dinner. Then, I just couldn’t stand it and started surviving on instant noodles. Fortunately, I had brought a stash of instant noodles with me, just in case.
The team competition started on our second day in Portugal. I only played in the teams event as that was the only one I had qualified for. Our first match was in the afternoon, so we slept in and had lunch before departing to the competition arena. We arrived to start our warm up at around fifteen minutes past one.
We would be playing Ukraine, and I played second. We dropped our first match, but I managed to even up the score. To be honest, I wasn’t all that nervous compared to excited. I was super-hyped. Jumping to the result, we defeated Ukraine with a score of 3:1 and advanced to the semi-finals. But, of course, the story has to be longer, so let’s see what happened.
We lost our first match and I had gotten the second. So far, 1:1. The third match was exciting. Our third player up against their third player. The opponent had an abnormal style. She had pips on both sides. That’s a lot of sides. Usually, if a player even uses pips, it’ll be on one side. And you don’t see that a whole lot, either. The “normal” style is to use smooth rubber on both sides. OK, we got her style down. What’s the problem? The problem is that our player was nervous about it. Actually, let’s say unfamiliar. She was unfamiliar with pips. With the third point being an extremely important link in team matches, right off the bat she was down two games. Then, in the third game, at 9:9, the umpire messed up big time. That’s because there was an “edge ball” the umpire claimed had made contact on top which was incorrect and had actually hit the under side of the table. Even with arguing from our corner, she lost the point. Staying strong, she managed to make a furious comeback and take the match 3:2. Note that during this time, since I was going to play the first player from the Ukraine team, our first player was sharing her experience during her match and what strategies she would recommend to use. I also shared mine, because if we end up going to a fifth match, she would be playing Ukraine’s second player. I ended up taking my second victory, as well as the third point for our team. International tournaments are definitely outside my comfort zone since I’ve only played a handful of them. However, I managed to do a considerably good job. I had a steady performance and kept good composure. In the mixed emotions of happiness knowing that we have secured a medal and the
nervousness of the upcoming match, we headed back to the hotel for dinner. I think at that moment most of us were happy.
Our next match came soon though. It was now the day of semifinals. Facing Japan, it was win or go home. Japan had one of the best players in the tournament. She was later on crowned champion after winning the U15 finals. Our first player lost to her.
I was up second. My opponent had pips on her forehand side. Unlike the player from Ukraine, she only had one side with pips. As I had said, this was much more “normal”. What wasn’t normal was how she held her paddle. It wasn’t a penhold nor a shakehand grip. It looked like a claw from a claw machine. No clue how she can hit the ball like that, but it looked pretty cool. There was a table tennis youtuber that made a video with her and quite literally named her grip “The Claw”.
I managed to take the first game with a two point margin. Then she cranked it back even. Most of my mistakes were because I couldn’t accurately predict the speed she was looping with. I always felt her loop to be quicker and stronger than it really was. After some adjusting, the next two games went in my favor with a good margin. I locked in a fixed strategy that she really had trouble with. I took my third tournament win and brought the team score to one a piece.
So it was the same situation as with Ukraine, our third point being the main deciding factor. We were actually leading. Our third player was doing well, delivering solid rallies. However, later in the match she encountered difficulties when receiving the opponents high toss serve. That was probably a main reason for the final defeat. Because she had been leading throughout the match, I hadn’t really prepared for her to lose. When it hit me, I felt myself getting nervous. Knowing that my next opponent would be very strong and that the chance of victory was slim.
On court, I overall played just about normal. Not really bad in any form, but also not being able to perform above my level to make a difference in the end result. Mainly, I didn’t put in enough variety to cause my opponent problems, especially when she was mixing things up really well. I found it super hard to deal with her first three shots. They almost always had high quality. Her only weakness I could see was continuity. But, that is if you could get past her first few shots. After my loss (which was also the end of our team match), funny enough, we were running out to catch a bus as we were desperate to get back for lunch. Four matches with three victories. Not bad, but still much to learn and improve, especially from that last opponent.
We went back to the competition arena in the evening to cheer for the U15 boys’ and U19 girls’ teams (they both made it to the finals). And, also to participate in the teams’ awards ceremony as well as get some team pictures. The athletes that didn’t have any singles events were to head back home in just one or two more days, so we wouldn’t be able to get team pictures at the end of the tournament. It was awesome to stand on the podium with the team. We were each awarded a medal and a small bouquet of roses. I thought they were gorgeous.
Something not competition related happened, but it still was super exciting for me. There was a member of the tournament staff at the arena. He wanted to interview a player from the Chinese team. He came up to the USA team for help because of the language barrier. The Chinese team grabbed one of their players to deal with the interview as our coach asked me to help translate. They were all very busy, so calling me to help translate was basically random, and I was kinda nervous to be honest. The interviewer recorded the session from beginning to end. He only asked three questions, each quite standard. Just the “Are you excited to come back onto an international stage?”, “How does it feel to be champion?” kind of questions. We
worked through the interview and I got to take a picture with the Chinese player! I was so happy! I was actually already a fan of his, and really liked how he plays.
Back at the hotel, I didn’t have much more to do than a lot of packing. So, I packed away. On my last night there, we had to get dumplings. It was because the hotel food was so bad that nobody could take it anymore. Everyone came to have dinner together in our room. They gathered around a small table. After having a couple dumplings, I started to do some of my crocheting. Ten hearts I made, one for each athlete on the team. It was like a farewell gift from me to each player.
I didn’t sleep that night due to the fact our bus to the airport was scheduled for 3AM in the morning. Hopping on the bus was being one step closer to home. I traveled to Houston with four others, and to San Francisco with two. The transfer from Houston to SFO was quite the excitement. First, we were all hungry. I managed to find something I wanted – cookies and soda, but they didn’t. Second, we all got lost. We were confused with the terminal layout in Houston. The signs said to take a metro. Upstairs, where the metro platform was, had no people. On top of the fact it was practically midnight and super dark outside, so we got kinda worried. Third, we ran into a security guard that was acting a bit weird. The moment he came into sight, we were like “Nope!”, and down the escalator we went.
After heading down, checking the directory, and making extra sure, we did finally conclude that we were supposed to take the metro to Terminal 3. So, off we went. While on the way to our gate, a Wendy’s caught our eye and the other two were still hungry, so in line they got. As they were waiting for their hamburgers, I went to double-check which way our gate was located. Props to Houston. Their airport is super huge and super clean. Definitely a well maintained environment.
After not too long a wait, we boarded and took off. Three hours later, we landed in SFO, got our bags, and finally met our parents. A good conclusion to this very long journey away from home.
This trip was fun and exciting. For sure I want to enjoy more like it in the future, so thank you to all that helped make this come true. Thanks to Butterfly/Bomar Sports, to all the coaches, and all the parents as well. Lastly, to all my readers, hope you enjoy my articles and I wish to see you soon in my next one! Tchau!
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