Saluting NCTTA Class of 2017

by Andy Kanengiser

NCTTA Media Chairman

Win or lose, Maria Daniela Castillo racked up many memorable moments as a University of Wisconsin-Madison table tennis player.

The 21-year-old native of Bucaramanga, Colombia hopes to shine at the NCTTA's national championships in early April.

No matter how things go, Maria Castillo and other members of the Class of 2017 will fight for every point at the games in Eau Claire, Wisconsin April 7-9.

"I absolutely love playing table tennis. I enjoy the sport and how challenging it is. But I also love meeting people from all around the world, different cultures and different cultures,'' Castillo says.

Her collegiate experience with the Olympic sport stretched from a few years at Lindenwood University in Missouri (starting in Fall 2013) before transferring to Wisconsin-Madison in Spring 2016.

 From performances with a diverse Lindenwood table tennis team with players from around the planet to solid showings on the Wisconsin women's team, it was all good.

"My top highlight from my NCTTA career is without a doubt the 2016 Nationals where we (Wisconsin-Madison)  got second in women's teams,'' she said. Maria Castillo joined forces with stellar Wisconsin teammates like Pamela Song, Joanna Zhang and Chen Sun.

Playing women's doubles with Pamela Song was truly the icing in the cake. The duo from Wisconsin- Madison finished 2nd to the mighty Texas Wesleyan University women's doubles team. Joanna Zhang achieved a third place finish  in women's singles at the 2016 tournament in Round Rock, Texas.

The four Wisconsin women, Maria said, "played really well in our matches, we fully supported each other at all times, and that was reflected in our results. I will never forget this tournament!.''

She's not all about playing table tennis with passion. 

Maria is a smart student who's double majoring in environmental sciences and environmental studies. After graduation, she plans to become a researcher in the environmental sciences and air quality field. She will tackle that for a year or two and apply to graduate school. So it's possible Castillo could be back in uniform at NCTTA tournaments in the future. That's because the Wisconsin senior studied abroad and didn't play in collegiate tournaments for one season to leave her with a year's eligibility.

Her table tennis career has literally taken Maria around the globe. She began playing at age 9, and by age 15 got 2nd place in a cadet women's singles Latin American tournament in Buenos Aires. She participated in singles and doubles at the World Table Tennis Championships in Rotterdam in 2011and Paris in 2013. Along her table tennis journey, Maria established many lasting friendships.

The 2017 TMS nationals in Eau Claire will be the final NCTTA tournament for Mississippi College senior Yichi Zhang. The bright computer science major and native of China remains the 2016 NCTTA men's singles champion. To make that happen, he defeated several table tennis stars, including teammates Cheng Li (who is also the MC coach) and Qing Wei Sun at the national championships near Austin, Texas.

Returning to Eau Claire one more time is extra special for Yichi Zhang. It's the same place in 2015 where Mississippi College upset longtime national champ Texas Wesleyan. The Rams stormed back to beat MC and win its phenomenal 12th national coed team championship in 2016. MC's team captured first place at the NCTTA's 2017 Regionals in Fort Worth, with Texas Wesleyan taking second. Expect MC and Texas Wesleyan to be slugging it out once again in Eau Claire.

Cornell University isn't seen as a big threat to national heavyweights like Texas Wesleyan, Mississippi College and Lindenwood. Still the Ivy League school will showcase one of its stars from the Ithaca, New York campus at the championships in Wisconsin.

He's 21-year-old Cornell senior Gideon Teitel of New York City. He's not just a guy slamming a hollow white ball and returning shots for glory. Gordon is interested in a career related to economics and finance. He's actively hunting jobs.

"Whatever I do next year, I will have to study for the GRE and LSAT,'' Gideon says. Whether it is grad school law school or a business career, Teitel will pack his paddle and play table tennis. There are plenty of great clubs for him to hone his skills in the New York City area. "I will continue playing table tennis and have my sights set on (a rating of) 2400.''

The 2017 NCTTA championships in Eau Claire will welcome a parade of other outstanding seniors. They include: Jeremy Lai, 21, a Duke neuroscience major from Hong Kong and Princeton standout Shirley Fu, 21, of British Columbia, Canada. California-Berkeley's Ellen Hwang, 22, of Thousand Oaks, California is one more on the list of table tennis standouts in the Class of 2017.

(Pictured here is Maria Castillo and doubles partner Pamela Song from last year's championship event)

The 2017 TMS College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Eau Claire CVB and is one of the premier table tennis tournaments in North America featuring 6 events: Men’s and Women’s Singles and Doubles, and Men’s/Coed Teams, Women’s Teams.  The event is sponsored by TMS International, Gerflor, Double Fish

Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the TMS College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 7th and continues through Sunday April 9th. 


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.

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).