Table-tennis team finishes fourth at nationals

In its first year together, the Minnesota team went undefeated in the regional qualifying rounds.

Courtney Sinner

At the College Table Tennis National Championships earlier this month, the country’s top pingpong players saw a surprising name on the rankings: Minnesota.

In its first year together, the team went undefeated in the regional qualifying rounds to advance to nationals. They finished fourth out of 23 teams, behind Texas Wesleyan University, Princeton University and the University of Puerto Rico.

Team member Nathaniel “Ming” Curran said the fourth-place finish makes him hopeful for next year.

“I don’t think they wanted to play us,” he said. “They didn’t know what to expect.”

The team, however, isn’t technically associated with the University, aside from the fact that all its players are students.

Coach Thor Truelson said he unsuccessfully tried going through the Department of Recreational Sports to get club status and monetary support.

“We kind of just said, ‘Forget it,’ ” Truelson said. “There were too many hoops to jump through and fees to pay. We’d have to wait a while to get official status.”

Truelson has played in local tournaments since the early 1980s and knew the regional director for the collegiate tournament.

“He suggested we put together a team of kids at the University,” he said. “The local organization in Minneapolis is pretty strong. There are a lot of players that simply attend the U.”

Most of the five players on the team, however, have played the game since they were little.

Anders Truelson, a first-year student, grew up watching his dad, the team’s coach, play in weekend tournaments.

“Ever since I was 3 years old, I’ve been bouncing a ball around on a paddle,” he said. “Everyone in my family has played pingpong. My family played on the dining table after dinner one time.”

He decided he wanted to try competitive play at age 9 and is now ranked fourth in the state, Thor Truelson said.

“It was something Anders couldn’t really get away from,” he said.

Curran, a PSEO student, begged his mother to find a local table tennis club for him to join when he was 10, and is now ranked second in the state.

Apart from the engaging nature of the sport, Curran said his favorite part is the international exposure he gets.

“It allows you to meet so many people. When I was 13, I had friends from Nigeria, Japan, Russia,” Curran said, as he rattled off seven or eight other countries. “It has improved my understanding of the world.”

Apart from the team’s local practices and tournaments every Saturday at Lifetime Fitness in Fridley, which are open to the public and attract players of all levels from around the state, the group also participates in tournaments worldwide.

Last summer the group took a trip to Japan, and is traveling to Lima, Peru, for a tournament in a few weeks.

Luckily, the team only had to drive to Rochester for the National Championships.

Although it was good for the team to make it there on its first try, Anders Truelson said it wasn’t a big deal.

“We don’t get a huge amount of recognition like football or hockey,” he said. “Everyone loves football and hockey and it brings in a lot of revenue, so I guess we don’t really do that.”

Unlike those high-impact sports, where “your joints are done at 25 or 30,” Anders Truelson said table tennis is a sport he could continue doing his whole life.

“Eighty might be a little too old,” he said, “but you’ve got to have something to do when you’re that age, too.”

Curran, an assistant coach for kids on Saturdays, said table tennis is something he wants to continue for the rest of his life.

Right now, though, the team would be happy with a place to practice on campus, instead of in their coach’s mother’s basement.

“It’d be nice to just have a gym a couple days a week,” Thor Truelson said. “That’d be great – that’s all we’d need.”