Seven Days With Sally Moyland In The 2022 U19 PanAm-Rosario..
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Seven Days With Sally Moyland In The 2022 U19 PanAm – Rosario Argentina

(By: Sally Moyland)

This tournament was right after the New York training camp. All U19 Team USA representatives were obliged to go. Other participants in the camp were self-willing and paid their own expenses. After our one week of training together, our team of eight – four boys and four girls – headed to Argentina.

Practice day:

Our scheduled training time was two in the afternoon. But knowing that other teams would not use up all their tables, we went in the morning as well. We were able to get ourselves a good two sessions in – one on the training tables and one on the competition tables. There were two arenas with a total of five competition tables and six warm-up tables. Tables one and two were in an arena we called the “Main Hall” or “Main Arena”. The other three competition tables were in the second stadium. The six training tables were also in the second hall, and they were separated from the three tournament tables by just a few banners. The two halls were just opposite of each other, and in-between had only one road – not a street kind of road but rather an entrance for cars kind of road. The tournament was held in a place I would consider more like a sports center. It had a track as well as beach volleyball. I don’t think just a random facility would have such equipment. Speaking of the facility, it was maintained quite nicely, even though the birds constantly tried to make a mess of it. We’ll get to that in a moment. There were a surprising number of janitors just cleaning and cleaning throughout the day. No matter if it was inside the hall cleaning the floor mats and picking up trash, or mopping the outsides and maintaining the bathrooms (which were separate from the competition halls). It was a day before the tournament, and I don’t think the janitors had worked on the competition halls yet. The first thing we saw when we walked in was quite the astonishing amount of bird poop… well, the bird poop just like that, was all splattered on the surface of table three. And luckily enough, we were scheduled to COMPETE on that table the next day. Some people said it was good luck, some thought it was funny to see, and others were just grossed out. Either way, we couldn’t practice there so we moved to practice on the warm-up tables.

We got back to the hotel for lunch, and sad to say there was only one lonely dish of chicken fried rice. Don’t be deceived, this was only the start of how poor the food was.

Almost immediately, we boarded another bus to the stadium. We were heading off to start our second session of practice before competition day arrived. My first practice session in the morning went well. But for afternoon practice I don’t know what happened. It was not my body condition that wasn’t doing well, but instead it was my mental condition that suddenly fell to the absolute bottom of the deepest pit. It was so abrupt that I didn’t even notice it at first. I started to practice but my body didn’t want to move, and slowly had no will to play. Going with the scientific way, I decided to take a break from table tennis for the afternoon. When I told the coach, though, I told her my stomach hurt (which technically was true, but just not the main reason) so she wouldn’t be asking about it and questioning my “weird reason”. Some people doubted my way of dealing with this particular situation, but I proved that it didn’t impact my play at all.

We headed back to the hotel around five. Looking forward to what our dinner might be, yet not even a chance to see. Why? Because, apparently, people in Argentina have dinner at midnight. The hotel dinner started at eight and went to ten. That’s so late for us, yet they say it’s already early for them. Anyway, we got over it, and I’m just going to make it simple here – the food was absolutely horrendous. Yes, they gave us some meat this meal but it was dry and bland, and we were offered a butter knife to cut the least tender steak on planet earth.

Day 1:

We were scheduled for two team matches today. There were four teams in our group, so we needed to play three matches, and the top two teams advanced. Our first match was supposed to be with Guatemala. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to show up for the teams event. So, after some morning warm-up, we watched Puerto Rico play Canada – the two other teams in our group. Our afternoon match was with Puerto Rico, so we paid extra attention to them.

After a good rest at the hotel, we got back on the bus and headed back to the stadium. In our team meeting, my teammate wanted to play first. She said she was nervous and wanted to get over her first match. I had no problems with any order of play, so I agreed, and that’s how we filled out our playing sequence. She played first and successfully got us the first point. I was up next. Not as nervous, but still unsure of how it would feel competing there. On top of all that, we were on the first table, which was also the live stream table. Sometimes that could get on your nerves. Luckily, my match went well for me and I brought our team to a two-zero lead. Coming up after was the very important third point of the team match. It was our number three versus their number three. Unfortunately, we took the loss on this one. My opinion for the underperformance on our side would have to be because of her lack of experience – I think it was her first time representing USA in the teams’ event. The pressure from teams is way different from what you get in the singles event. Anyhow, we were still doing alright with a two-one lead. For the fourth match, it was our A versus their Y. Just to clear up any confusion, this is how team matches work. ABC vs XYZ (1. AvsX 2. BvsY 3. CvsZ 4. AvsY 5. BvsX). This was a very good chance to close off the fight. To be honest, I wasn’t even preparing that much for the fifth match. I thought it was over. But, no. Our opponents did everything they could to keep themselves in the game. They successfully dragged us into the fifth and final match by taking the fourth with really tight points, but overall a three to zero score. So it’s two to two, and I’m standing there focused and ready to take on the pressure of a fifth match competition. I did it, and slowly but surely was able to overcome this stressful decider.

Day 2:

The schedule today already made me happy. Only one team match, and even better, we would finish it in the morning!! That means we get some breaks, right? Unfortunately, not…… That just means we’ll have an extra practice session in the evening 🙁 So tired, rats!

During practice before our match with Canada, I felt a small tingle in my shins. It started getting worse by the minute, and since I was going to compete soon, I just taped it up. We identified the pain to be a shin splint, so I looked up how to tape the specific condition. Amazingly and luckily, I managed to control the pain.

The match with Canada was a little tight, but we pulled through just fine and successfully advanced as first from our group round-robin. The two groups of four would have two teams advance and two teams go into consolation. For us, it was directly into the semifinals. Advancing as first, we would go up against the other group’s number two – Mexico.

Lunch was unbearable, so we all made instant noodles for ourselves. Right after that, we headed back for practice. Then it was dinner. Thank you so much to Canada for sharing that Chinese fried rice. Probably the best thing I had in Argentina besides gummy worms.

Day 3:

This was it – the last day of teams. We had a good run with Mexico. I think I was the only one to drop a game. The other two matches were all won in three straight sets.

I was unawarely nervous about the finals. It was because I was practically starving, yet my body would not take in any food. It was hungry and the “I wanna throw up” kind of feeling kicking in at the same time. And, when that happens, I know that somewhere in me I’m getting nervous. Team USA has been at the top for U19 girls’ for who knows how long – and it better not be lost by us.

Soon came our finals match with Brazil. I was up first as the player in our strong position (A) and was to go up against their second position player (X). I ended up dropping the first game, but during so learned of my opponent’s weaknesses and came back strong to take the match in the next three. Up after me was our second-positioned player (B) against Brazil’s strong position player (Y). This was already set to be a hard match for us since we knew this was their better player. It was a crazy fight going from up two to one in games to very mild point differences in the fifth. Unfortunately for us we dropped our second team match. The score was settled at one a piece. Now, this third point was so unbelievably important that watching them play got me more nervous and excited than when I played myself. To my surprise, my teammate  was getting work done quickly. So quick, I wasn’t quite ready for my match when I should’ve been. I came back from the bathroom just as they finished. Hands cold, body cold, and totally out of feeling. When you get on the court, you want to be all warmed up and ready to go. Due to this miscalculation of time and lack of preparation on my end, I quickly dropped the first game. I was a little closer in the second, but still fell two points short after my opponent got a clip off the net to close off the game. Now, in a pretty rough situation here, down zero-two in games. The good news is that I managed to catch hold of my opponent’s timing, so I knew what I could do to flip things over – execution was now the main factor. Smoothly bringing back some momentum for myself, I came back with two games. At two a piece came the deciding game. Things were still going well for me as I took off with a four-zero lead. I continued it to six-two. Then, things started to take a turn. I started to get a little passive, trying to wait for my opponent to miss. She refused to, and that forced me into a time-out after dropping a couple of consecutive points. Back from the time-out I stayed strong and kept my lead at two points. Then, I pulled through to grasp four match points. With another big lead, I started to fall defensive again, and that cost me big time. She got three points back on me and that brought up the tension. I thought my tactic out, and executed bravely going down the line on my backhand attack. She wasn’t there, but she got there with that sonic footwork, brought it out wide with her forehand and I was there – but not there enough. I reached out, didn’t catch the ball, and instead found myself in those side splits. Not a great time for the splits show….she was coming back on me and I needed to fix things! Making matters worse, I dropped yet another point. That adds up to five points lost in a row plus four matchpoints gone… and now a matchpoint for my opponent. Not the best situation I’ve ever been in…. Nevertheless, I got back up and took the next three points with decisive shots, and with that, I closed out a rough match and helped us girls secure our gold medal!! My teammates gave me some hugs as a celebration….a few of them even ran onto the court to do so!

We watched the boys play their team finals (Puerto Rico vs Brazil), which happened to be a full five matches. That took quite long, and there was still an award ceremony after. We needed to head home so we could get ready for our upcoming events. Immediately after the boys finished, we got right into the award ceremony. A lot of pictures and a few new friends. Before this stage, I didn’t really know anyone and didn’t approach anyone, either, since I’m not the greatest fan of distracting myself during competition. This break was a very nice chance to get to know more people, and I got to get close with some. I would start our conversation by letting them know that I was trying to learn Spanish. It was awesome how they would try to teach me and we would just go on chatting forever. Most of my time was spent with the Puerto Ricans since they had good English, so it broke the barrier that I had with most other countries. Like I said, though, we couldn’t stay long. The bus arrived and we hopped on, not lingering around.

I gotta be honest. I was hyper-out-of-my-mind at this point. That last match got me really excited. If anyone thought I was calm and in well-contained composure, thank you, that just meant my acting skills had improved. You could tell from the speed of my speech. Super random uncontrollable talk meant I was hyper. It took two coaches to come and remind me saying “Hey, you still got individuals. People are going to be fighting super hard when they play you. And now is not the greatest time to get a big head…”.

Day 4:

On my first day of singles, I only had group matches. Since I didn’t have much of a world ranking, I needed to play from the qualifier rounds. I remember playing a couple of doubles matches as well.

It’s been four days, and even if I didn’t talk to many people, I got to “know” who they were. The same goes for umpires and referees. The call area (where we have to check-in twenty to thirty minutes before our match, and where the umpire would check our rackets and shirt colors.) was probably one of the places you would hear me chit-chatting the most. I learned some colors such as roho (red) and azul (blue). Though I didn’t know their names, we had quite some fun rambling about.

I know I hadn’t mentioned this yet, but I lost my phone a few days ago. Luckily, my coach picked it up so I got it back real quick. But now, yet again, I find my phone missing. Absolute devastation. It wasn’t that much about the phone, but rather more about a feeling of uselessness and it can really get me annoyed when I keep losing things.

Day 5:

Second to last day. Mixed doubles would finish on this day, as doubles and singles would finish on the last. I got into the quarterfinals of mixed doubles before suffering defeat. Our opponents were from Puerto Rico. The girl was seeded second in singles, and the boy would go on to become champion in the individual event – quite the strong combination. The most troublesome part when playing them was when dealing with the boy’s quality and power. It took me two games to figure out what to do, and by that time it was too late. Also, I would say that I could’ve been more aggressive. That definitely would’ve helped bunches.

Later in the day I still had singles. Going up against the second seed, who was the same young lady that I met in mixed doubles (actually, I also played her in doubles and teams, so that means we played in every event!). One of my teammates started before me, so our coach was busy watching her. We talked about this situation the previous night and came to an agreement that she would come watch me once she finished the match before. We were playing best of seven games, so matches could go quite long. However, when I left for my match my teammate was already two-zero up in games. “Coach should come”, I thought. But of course, I was still prepared to play myself. And guess what happens? I finish my first game….our coach didn’t come. That’s ok. I finish my second game, still not here. Hmmm…. Maybe they’re having a tight match. Finish my third game……not here. By this point, I’m like, “Ok, they’ve probably gone to a seven-game match and she may not come. I was three-zero up so I felt alright and in control. Now, in the middle of my fourth game, our coach slowly walks over and sits down. Immediately, I drop four points in a row. Pulling myself to take a few points back, I forced a timeout out of my opponent. I go into my corner and she says, “Did I distract you?”. Well kinda yeah, and kinda no. I went back, grabbed the critical points and advanced with four straight games. Afterward, our coach confirmed my conjecture. She told me that her previous match went to a very tight seven, and that was why the delay of appearance for my match.

Remember how I lost my phone yesterday? Yeah, I totally lost confidence to bring it so in the hotel it stayed. I noticed the constraints without my phone – taking photos, recording matches, adding contacts, etc. I decided to bring it the next day, which was also the last day, so I could take some pictures and keep a nice memory.

Day 6:

This was the day I’d been waiting for. For my singles, I had three matches – Canada in the quarters, then Brazil in both semis and finals. I passed quarters with a straight four, however the last game went to something like 16:14. Semis with Brazil was exciting. I had played her in teams, and had a good idea of what to do. From my point of view, she did great. Even though I still ended up taking victory, she made it tough. Being up two games was good for me, but she kept coming. Actually making me shake, I got a little scared there. I pulled through with a few strong rallies as well as a couple of lucky nets – the final score was 4:1 for me. Two matches left for me now (two finals matches – one singles and one doubles). Both would be in the afternoon.

I hadn’t noticed, but I was surely nervous. Just think of it, me as a fifteen-year-old up on the finals stage of an U19 continental tournament. Pretty crazy. Up first for me was the girls’ doubles match. This was a US vs US match. Good for our coaches cause they got to take a break. I would say not cool for the audience, though. Personally, I never loved to watch players from the same country face off. It just wasn’t as exciting to watch, of course, CHINA vs CHINA is an exception here. I and my partner took gold three-zero. Honestly, I think she carried us. At least, in the end, she did. In the third game, I made at least four unforced errors. She did well, though, surely a well-earned gold medal for her. After the match, we were pulled over to make a small video for ITTF. They wanted us to introduce ourselves and state how happy we were to be gold medalists. It went from awkward to fun. We had a blast trying to get the video done and I’m telling you, it’s harder than it looks!

My next and last match for me was my singles finals. I defeated this opponent in teams, but it was a crazy close match so there was no guarantee. From a different point of view, you could even say I had a disadvantage… considering I had no experience in continental finals stages and she had tons. Putting technical advantages aside, I really wasn’t above her on the mental preparation and didn’t know much of what to expect. As we walked in I could feel the crowd on me. Did the coin toss, then back to my corner to get my towel, and then….GAME TIME!!

It was a tight first game, but I held off my game point with a strong backhand rally. The second game was still in control, from my rhythm changes to serve and receive strategies. In the third game, I pulled far ahead in points and the excited crowd started to become a little less excited. Neither of us bothered choing after each point. Just when it was about to be a “boring” game, here comes the turning point. Last point she flips to my forehand, catches me off guard, and forces me to lunge over, and I get there just in time to pull off an amazing around-the-net save! Now, that brought out some whistles from the crowd. OK, here I am, up three zero in the finals and I can feel myself start to get distracted by what could happen. Such as “I could win” or “I could be champion”. Those thoughts never helped. I kept going and focusing in the fourth and last game. Up throughout the whole game and closed it off with a strong backhand loop. There it was!! I was the champion! Champion in both doubles and singles. It was a both relieving and exciting moment for me. It might’ve almost been a surprise. At that moment, almost unthinkable.

Anyhow, after getting over that wave of emotion I sat down with my new international friends and we watched the very last match of the U19 Pan American Championships – the U19 boys’ singles finals. After enjoying that amazing six-game match, it was time for the individuals’ award ceremony.

I got to go up and receive a gold medal twice – for singles and doubles. They would play our national anthem and it was a really proud moment.

After the ceremony was a black hole of pictures. Pictures with the girls, with the boys, with the tournament directors, with the pooping birds……just kidding… Oh, and I had my dream come true (one at least). I got to trade shirts with Brazil’s number one youth player! Really, really happy about that. Probably better than that gold medal… I take that back, the two are equally amazing. Loved my last day there.

Leaving:

It was time to get packed and ready to go. I and my roommate got our stuff done real quick, headed out and we saw an absolute party cracking. I think one of the Canadians started it. He probably called some international friends over. Those international friends probably called their friends over, too. And once everyone came, it was a Canadian, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and American four-country party on our floor!! We were on the same floor as the Canadians, so I got to see all the chaos. People were dancing and screaming and laughing and just having fun. There were coaches on our floor too, but it didn’t seem like they cared about the disturbance. I mean, last day, have fun, do whatever, why not?

Eventually, things had to end for us. The other teams continued their partying but team USA and Puerto Rico had a flight, so we had to get going. Having the same flight was a pure coincidence, but either way, it was fun to have a little more time with them.

Our final mission was to have a safe flight returning to the States. It wasn’t a direct flight – we had one transfer at Panama City, then we would enter the States from Miami. For the domestic flights, we would fly to LAX, and then I would head back to IAH (Houston).

Our first flight was from a small airport in Rosario, more of a local airport. I was all excited to get a souvenir… Sadly, the place didn’t have much. One duty shop with wine and chocolate wasn’t what I was looking for. Because of COVID and other safety reasons, we weren’t allowed out of the hotel, so I never had a chance to buy any local stuff. That was quite disappointing for me.

We were there a couple of hours before our flight and it was already eleven at night. I was getting super tired as the Puerto Ricans started to show up. The first thing that happened was that a Puerto Rican boy stole my hat! Noooo… and he wouldn’t give it back. I was so tired by then that after a few “Hey, give my hat back” pleads, I just blacked out. I did try to chit-chat and have fun but l couldn’t bear it and ended up falling asleep. They woke me up at boarding time. My hat was still on his head… not until sometime on the plane did he finally return it. After he did so I felt quite relieved, and could have a nice peaceful rest on the way to Panama.

Upon arrival in Panama City, we had a long walk to our connecting flight. Luckily we got to our next gate ahead of time. Coach let us have around twenty minutes of free time. I took that time to get some late but still needed souvenirs. I picked out a Panama keychain and though it wasn’t an Argentina one, I was still happier than if I were to go back without anything. As we headed back to our gate, boarding had already started. We hopped on our flight to Miami and I passed out before the plane finished taking off.

Arriving in Miami, because it was our first stop in the country, we had to go through customs. Then, we would need to grab our check-in bags and re-check them in. Both procedures went well as I got through customs with just a few simple questions from the TSA and for baggage claim, we didn’t need to wait much since our bags all came out early on the conveyer belt. Next up, LAX!

Ok, now this was disappointing…On the six-hour flight across America, there was no entertainment…at least they had some snacks and a beverage. I didn’t sleep as much on this flight. Instead, I was working on my crochet projects! I forgot which one I was doing, though….. Anyhow, we made it safely to the LAX airport which was very, very nice cause I got to meet my parents there!

They were on their way to Houston – driving there. They came to stop by at LAX to make sure that I was ok as well as to make sure I got on my connecting flight to Houston. The rest of the group either had their final destination being LAX, if not, they would all be heading to SFO. I was the only one flying to Houston, Texas. There was a huge gap between my two flights, so I and my parents went out to have some long-awaited dim sum!

After the nice dinner, they helped me check in and then got ready to continue their road trip. The plane took off and after just a short while, I finally landed in Houston. It wasn’t my home, but it was like a second one…

After arriving at the place I stayed I don’t remember exactly, but it must not have been more than one day’s rest. I got back to work soon, as the WTT Cuenca and U15 Pan American Championships were right around the corner…

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