Senior Jonathan Wu setting up to start a round.

Ping Pong Wins State

Feb 27, 2023

The Niles West ping-pong team made history on Saturday, Feb.25, as they secured first place at the final four-state tournament held at Niles West.

Their victory will be remembered for years to come, as they have set a new standard for the program. The program has grown a lot over the past few years and they’ve gotten closer to bringing home the state trophy during each season. During their first state championship in 2018, the ping-pong team placed third and last year they secured second place.

According to their head coach, Jerry Pope, and assistant coach Emanuel Rivera, this year’s championship felt like a repeat of the 2022 state championship since they had gone against the exact same teams in the final four. The lineup consisted of very competitive north division teams, Loyola Academy, Whitney Young and Naperville North. In both years the Wolves went undefeated throughout the season, but they lost by two matches in the state championship.

Many of the members were disappointed and heartbroken for coming so close and not winning, so they were fueled to put in extra work this season. Pope had hoped to take their team to the next level, and an ongoing work ethic had been spread to make sure that they’ve all individually improved as much as possible.

Varsity tryouts was a lot more competitive this year, as Pope made the decision to narrow it down to only the best eight players. Even though most varsity teams carry extra players and back-ups, he decided to keep a smaller team with really elite players to make sure that they really challenge each other to improve.

“The reality is the players were the ones who made the season. Their hard work and dedication proved why they are the best in the state! I couldn’t be happier to work with our players. They bring energy, competitiveness, and laughter. It was a great pleasure working alongside Coach Jerry Pope. We both try to give back what the players were giving us and it made for a great experience,” Rivera said.

In order to get in shape this season, the team has been putting in a lot of practice both inside and outside of school. Despite only participating in official competitions during the winter season, the varsity members have had 3-day practices for over two hours, all year round.

Many of the selectively chosen members are nationally ranked and play in private clubs to gain more experience. In order to become more successful this year, they’ve been playing a lot of games against non-division teams and former players. Varsity players from last year have been shocked at all of the growth and even have trouble keeping up with the current team.

Since Niles West was hosting the state championship for the first time since 2018, the team enjoyed the home advantage and felt excited to be playing in front of a home crowd.

The varsity team didn’t bring any backup players, like their competitors, so many of the players overlap as both singles and doubles players. The varsity team won both singles rounds, which secured them a place in the final round. They dominated the first singles round against Naperville North (6-0) and the second round against Loyola, so they didn’t have to move onto the doubles round as a tie-breaker that determines the championship round.

In the final round, Niles West went up against Loyola Academy, which is exactly what Pope anticipated because they were the biggest challenge for them in last year’s final round as well. By dominating both championship rounds against Loyola, they officially became the first team to win first place for Niles West.

“Coming in my freshman year, I really couldn’t imagine that we’d be here today. It feels really good to win after four years with me being captain, and I couldn’t ask for a better team. Going in, we knew we were the best team, all we had to do was lock it in. We went and performed, and it feels really good that our hard work paid off,” senior Elliot Myung said.

“I am so happy for our team that we were able to bring home the State trophy. Most people never see the long hours that our guys put in with practice, tournaments and training. We went undefeated through 13 tournaments this year. The guys on the team are a lot of fun to coach. They bring great energy with a wonderful sense of humor and they all love the sport of ping-pong. I especially like to thank all the students, parents, faculty, staff, and admin that showed up on Saturday to cheer on the team. I think some of them are hooked on ping-pong now,” Pope said.

Through their continued hard work, Niles West ping-pong has moved up the rankings and created more of a ping-pong culture at school. Be sure to congratulate the players on their historic achievement!

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