By Andy Kanengiser
Things are really looking up for the Northwestern University table tennis team.
In fact, this is the best season in Coach Ned Leuchtner's 10 years running the Wildcats squad. Back in its early days, the Northwestern table tennis team competed with the school's ballroom dancing club to find space to practice on campus.Fortunately, those struggles are over for the school in Evanston, Illinois.
These days the Wildcats team is well-known on and off campus in the Chicago area. Northwestern finished No. 2 in the NCTTA regionals recently behind powerhouse Lindenwood University of Missouri.
Prior to the 2018 iSet national collegiate table tennis championships in Round Rock, Texas April 20-22, Northwestern's coed team was ranked 19th in the nation.
In a nail biter of a doubles match at Friday's opening set of games at the Round Rock Sports Center, Northwestern fought back to edge the UCLA Bruins. Moments after escaping with a win ( 3 games to two), Coach Leuchtner was ecstatic with the performance of his talented guys.
"We were down, but then our No. 3 player Ryan Louie started killing it,'' Leuchtner said. "He hit shots hard.''
The strong performance by Louie, a 24-year-old technology and social behavior graduate student from San Diego, inspired his teammate. David Lee, 20, a Northwestern senior from Minneapolis, stepped up his game and the Wildcats emerged on top.
A bright industrial engineering major at the stellar Big Ten school, David Lee was elated. But there was little time to enjoy the April 20th triumph. There were many more matches to play in the Sports Capital of Texas.
Knocking off the 15th-ranked UCLA team was a nice accomplishment at the national championships in the Lone Star State. In tournaments earlier this season, Northwestern's coed squad defeated potent table tennis rivals like Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Excellent players helped Northwestern reach the nationals in the 2016 championships, also in Round Rock. The school finished No. 23 after its debut in the NCTTA's Big Dance of table tennis two years ago.
Leuchtner really doesn't need to do a big selling job to convince elite student-athletes to enroll at Northwestern. The school's first-class academic reputation worldwide remains off the charts. The many cultural attractions of the Chicago area and bright economy help, too. The frigid cold, ice and snow of the Windy City could be one negative factor during bitter winters for some.
Northwestern's entire coed table tennis team is solid. Other notable players include Edward Lin, a senior from Beijing, China. The 21-year-old is an economics major. Sophomore Guanhao "Peter'' Chen,21, an economics and math major, also hails from China where table tennis is king. JunLong "Jack'' Chi is a 24-year-old graduate student from China.
Besides crediting outstanding players, Leuchtner says an NCTTA pre-season coaches table tennis clinic last summer proved invaluable. It made him a better coach and helped Ned set goals.
His training as a table tennis coach didn't stop there. "You must be constantly learning and staying involved'' with the Olympic sport, he added.
Leuchtner, who works in the Chicago area for Comcast, knows a good deal about the game from the perspective of a former college player. Back in 1984, Ned battled his way to become Indiana University's table tennis champion on the Bloomington campus. Fast forward to 2018, and the veteran coach is helping Northwestern players advance their game.
The 2018 iSET College Table Tennis Championships is hosted by the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association and the Round Rock 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 iSET, Double Happiness, Gerflor, Double Fish and USA Table Tennis
Players and spectators alike will enjoy a jam-packed weekend of table tennis at the iSET College Table Tennis Championships. The event starts Friday April 20th and continues through Sunday April 22nd.
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