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April 4, 2013
Friends from Serbia Reunite at Table Tennis Championships
Table Tennis Friends Come Together From Far Apart
Serbia is known as the Crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe. There are numerous mountain peaks to climb, plenty of swift rivers to go rafting, and a non-stop nightlife scene in Belgrade.
As young girls growing up in Serbia, Vanessa Petroj and Brana Vlasic became good friends who would see each other most weekends playing table tennis tournaments around the country.
For more than a decade, the two girls from a nation covering the southern part of the Pannonian Plain and Central Balkans lost touch. But just days before the NCTTA championships in Texas, Vanessa, now a graduate student in linguistics at the University of Connecticut, discovered her friend would be competing with her on the same national stage for table tennis.
The natives of Serbia reconnected, became Facebook friends, exchanged phone numbers and had a wonderful reunion playing their favorite Olympic sport in Plano last April. For three days at the 2012 championship games near Dallas, they also stayed busy making new pals in the Lone Star State. Vlasic, a table tennis standout for the University of California-San Diego, and Petroj, a star at UConn, will be back once again to make lasting memories at the 2013 NCTTA Championships in Rockford, Illinois in mid-April.
Petroj remembers going to Plano practically as a stranger last spring. She returned home to the Storrs, Connecticut campus "richer with friends and experiences, a gathering of hardworking students who share a passion and never let go. Table tennis runs through our veins."
A 24-year-old linguistics scholar who recalls her first few practices, those bittersweet losses and the many triumphs along the way, doesn't have as much time to devote to the sport this year. After all, her studies at the University of Connecticut come first. But she's determined to stay focused and improve her game whenever tournaments roll around. Last season, Vanessa ranked among the top 16 collegiate women in North America when it comes to table tennis.
On the West Coast, Brana Vlasic remains one of the best on a solid University of California-San Diego team. The UCSD women's team has powerful players like Jessica Cheung, Mekala Neelakantran and Michelle Beng on its campus in La Jolla and did well at the NCTTA West Regionals. So did the UCSD coed team. In addition, Brana is a longtime member of the San Diego Table Tennis Club.
About 3,000 miles away from California, Vanessa Petroj packed her paddle for New York City in late February and turned in a strong showing at the NCTTA's Northeast Regionals. It was enough to punch her ticket to Rockford for the Nationals.
Getting to see her friend Brana again and visit with so many others will be quite a nice journey for Vanessa. She wonders if last year's amazing level of competition in Texas will get much better in 2013 in Illinois. "I was astonished at the talent and positive energy and the entire atmosphere of the (2012) tournament."
Preparing for the 2013 Nationals will give the Connecticut table tennis sensation and more than 250 other stellar collegiate players a chance to step up their game. It's always a terrific energy-filled break from the books, computers and frequent trips to the university library. Vanessa says, "Every practice is an escape from everyday routines and hard work at school."
The 2013 College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Rockford Area Convention and Visitorís Bureau and is one of the most competitive table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Menís and Womenís Singles and Doubles, and Menís/Coed Teams, Womenís Teams. The event is sponsored by Newgy Industries, Butterfly, PR etc. Rockford Table Tennis Club, Fitzgerald Equipment, Rockford Park District
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the 2013 College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 12th and continues to Sunday April 14th at the Forrest Tennis Center in Rockford, Illinois.
The National Collegiate Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) is a non-profit organization established exclusively for promoting the sport of table tennis at the college level. As the national governing body for college table tennis in the United States and Canada, NCTTA organizes intercollegiate competition throughout North America. www.nctta.org
About USA Table Tennis
Headquartered in Colorado Springs, USATT is the national organizing body for table tennis in the United States, serving 9,000+ members and nearly 300 clubs. USATT sanctions 200+ events a year including the US Open and US Nationals. USATT is affiliated with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). www.usatt.org