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Shuster Dominates Table Tennis Meet

By Daniel Wang
Associate Sports Editor

Many people think of table tennis as a simple game of batting a small celluloid ball around on a table. However, for the field that gathered at Rockwell Cage on Saturday, it was a fast-paced sport which tested speed, spin, and skill.

The competitors came to participate in the Region I (New England area) Table Tennis Championships, as part of the Association of College Unions-International Games Tournament. Regional champions in the various contests would go on to the ACU-I National Championships. Entrants in the table tennis event came from as far away as Maine and Connecticut.

After six hours of competition, MIT's Eugene Shuster '96 plowed through the 15-player field to win the double-elimination men's singles tournament to advance to the national level of ACU-I competition. Both Shuster and Daniel Maung G qualified for both the men's singles and doubles tournaments at SCC Games Tournament at MIT in late January.

Although there was no one from MIT participating in the women's singles competition, the event was one of the early highlights. The final match of the 5-player round robin pitted current U.S. national team member Jane Chui, of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, against former Vietnam national team member Ngoc Truong, playing for Northeastern University. Truong gave Chui some trouble for the first few points, but Chui prevailed in the entertaining match, 21-16, 21-10.

Men's Singles Action

In men's singles action, both Shuster and Maung won their first two rounds to reach the semifinals of the winner's bracket. The first round matches were quite easy for both of them. Shuster's spin serves and heavily topspinning strokes were too much for Joshua Lewit of Johnson and Wales University, and he won effortlessly, 21-2, 21-3. Maung had a closer contest with Keith Kutilek of the University of Maine, but still won quite easily, 21-8, 21-15.

Shuster had another easy two-game win, against Pete Cardillo of Fitchburg State College. Maung played against Jasper Wong, a good friend, from Brown University. Although there were many errors on both sides, Maung split two hard-fought games with his opponent, who used a different, penholder style, of holding his racquet. In the third game, Maung figured his opponent out, started making his shots, and went on a roll to finish off the match, 21-18, 17-21, 21-11.

Both MIT players met true challenges in the semifinals of the winner's bracket, but both had different outcomes. Maung drew top seed Jignesh Mehta of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, formerly one of the top junior players in the United States. Mehta's shots, carrying extreme topspin, simply turned out to be too much for Maung, who was blown out in the first game, 21-6. Maung found Mehta's weakness in a much closer second game, but still lost, 21-17.

In his semifinal match, Shuster met up with Krishna Kumar, another Brown player. Kumar give him some trouble in the first game, especially with returns of serve. Despite struggling, Shuster managed to pull out the win, 21-19. In the second game, Shuster stringed many points together and had an easier time in gaining a 21-9 win to close out the match.

With two players left in the winner's bracket, Shuster faced Mehta, and delivered everything he had. The two styles matched up well, but Shuster managed to come out ahead, victorious in two close games.

The double-elimination format allows someone to lose a match, but still win the entire tournament. Hence, Maung had another match to play, but to win the tournament, he would have to fight through the loser's bracket. Unfortunately, he was eliminated in his first match, against Chi-Ming Chui, brother of Jane Chui, also from UMass-Amherst. Chui, another penholder, overpowered and outplayed his opponent in the first game, winning, 21-17. In the second game, Maung came back from a 13-17 deficit to take a 18-17 lead, only to see Chui run off four points in a row to complete the match.

The format of the tournament also left Shuster waiting for the opponent of the last finals round. In the end, Shuster took to the table, with Mehta on the other side again.

Mehta came into the opening game full of energy, pumping himself up after each point he had won. He was able to return everything Shuster gave him, forcing numerous errors. Despite this, Shuster went up 16-10, only to see the lead disappear. Mehta won eight points in a row to go up 18-16. Shuster won some important rallies, in addition to some mistakes by his opponent, to win four straight points and have a game point, at 20-18. Mehta managed to come back and force a deuce at 20-20. Mehta had some chances to win the game, but could not finish it off on game point. Shuster's last few shots were too much for his adversary to handle, which allowed him to capture the first game, 24-22.

In the second game, Shuster took the early lead, returning Mehta's best shots with something better. Shuster took an 11-7, only to see an inspired Mehta close the gap, at 18-18. The two had a few drawn-out rallies, but Shuster managed to outlast Mehta on most of them. Shuster himself started yelling "Yes!" on points that he had won. When Mehta missed a shot on match point, Shuster had emerged victorious, 24-22, 21-19, and he won the singles tournament without dropping a single game.

Doubles Pair Reaches Final

Before the conclusion of the singles tournament, Maung and Shuster played together in the doubles tournament, and reached the finals, one win shy of heading to the national competition. After receiving a first-round bye, the pair faced the Brown team of Kumar and Wong. The MIT team committed many errors in the first game and lost. They came back, combining Maung's quickness with Shuster's heavy topspin, connecting on their shots and forcing errors. They captured the second and third games, winning the match 2-1, and 21-17 in the final game.

The pair then faced the brother and sister combination of Chi-Ming and Jane Chui, of UMass-Amherst. The MIT pair outlasted their opponents in the first game, winning 21-15. In the second game, they fell behind but came back to tie the score, 13-13. After that point, however, the UMass pair exploded on an 8-2 run, winning the second game, 21-15.

In the deciding game, the Chui's employed a strategy of serving, then killing the return of serve. The strategy worked well enough, as Maung and Shuster made many mistakes, and fell behind, 10-2, and 11-18, before losing the game, 21-12. "I could have improved my service return," Maung said. "We picked up a mentality in the second game that just carried over into the third."

Shuster will head to the ACU-I National Table Tennis Championships in April at Anderson College, S.C. Shuster, however, is not the first person to represent MIT at the national tournament. Chi-Sun Chui '93, brother of Jane and Chi-Ming Chui, won the regional competition four years in a row. He played his best at the national tournament three years ago, when he reached the finals as one of the top junior players in the United States.