Road to the Olympics

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Issue 8, Volume 112

By Lauren Lee 

Oftentimes during the winter season, the clamoring of small, hollow ping pong balls can be heard from the cafeteria. The Stuyvesant girls’ table tennis team is practicing drills or playing intense matches with other schools. One of the players, freshman Alyssa Kang, who is just starting her career as a Stuyvesant student, has already taken the position of first singles on the table tennis team. Her success in table tennis, however, is not new. Throughout her competitive career, Kang has played in the U.S. Open Table Tennis Championships, the U.S. National Table Tennis Championships, and multiple Team USA trials.

Kang started playing table tennis when she was eight years old and her mother brought her to play for the first time with her sister. “I kind of really like smacking the ball, so I wanted to go back. So I just kept on playing until now,” Kang said, citing her primary motivation to continue playing after the initial visit to the table tennis center.

Kang’s transition to Stuyvesant has posed the greatest challenge so far to her table tennis career. With a long commute and academic pressure, Kang has found it difficult to keep up with her personal table tennis training. However, she has worked to reach a perfect balance in the past few months. Her new training schedule accommodates for her commute and responsibilities at Stuyvesant. Kang detailed her schedule: “If there is school table tennis practice or matches, I usually end up going home around six to seven. Then, depending on my homework load, I will go to my table tennis club and have a lesson for about one and a half hours, and I will have to leave immediately to go home, eat, shower, and then finish homework.” Though her days seem hectic, she has managed to handle it with grace. English teacher and coach of the girls’ table tennis team Emilio Nieves compared her budding success to that of former student athletes. “They amazingly were able to excel as students despite the time commitment of their sports. [Kang] thus far has seemed to be excelling in the same way,” Nieves noted in an e-mail interview.

The transition into Stuyvesant became easier after her acceptance into the girls’ table tennis team as the first singles player. “I definitely feel like there’s a lot more support because I’m around [my teammates] for two or three days of the week, and we practice together, so it’s a lot more different than training by myself with my coach,” Kang said. Though the team consists mostly of upperclassmen, Kang has had little trouble blending in and creating strong relationships with her teammates. While her team has become a support system for her, Kang has been giving back in a different way. “When she is practicing, she has incredible focus, and it’s hard to not be inspired by her. She is also willing to give improvement tips to her teammates, which I appreciate,” Nieves commented.

Kang aims to play in the Olympics and has started competing in trials to qualify. Last year, Kang played in the under 17 Team USA trials, ranking in the top 10. In the past, Kang also represented Team USA in the Swedish Open, and this year, she ranked in the top 15 in the under 15 category. “There are trials every year. At first it’s the under 15 team, and then you go into the under 17, and then under 19, and then even right now you can make the adults team, which would go to the Olympics in four years,” Kang explained. Her goal for this year is to make the under 15 team, but she hopes to eventually see herself at the Olympic trials for the 2024 Olympics. “The idea of being able to represent Team USA is such an honor, especially since table tennis has been one of my biggest passions since I was nine. It would be amazing to play alongside some of the best players in the world,” Kang described.

As Kang works toward her far-reaching goals like playing in the Olympics and making division champions with her team, she continues to play with one thought in mind: “If it's a loss, I’ll take it. If it’s a win, I’ll take it too. It’s just about learning from your mistakes.”