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  • Kendra Zamzow

“It’s a mental game”

A small slip of a girl held the hollow, white ball as reverently as an egg in the palm of her hand. Then with a slice she spun it towards her opponent. In the semi-finals for the girls U15 age group, Kathleen Cai of Team Northwest Territories played Hanna Cho of Fairbanks. At the adjacent table, Trudy Quanaq and Lalita Atatahak, both of Team Nunavut played.

At Wasilla Middle School, four blue-surfaced tables were set up in the gym with cording around them to designate the playing areas. Spectators sat on purple bleacher benches, encouraging the players. Players conferred with coaches between sets, leaning over the cording like boxers in a ring. Games were fast-paced and focused. A player returned a ball that was well off the table, but in the next play, stepped aside to let the hollow white ball hit the ground. The official raised a hand indicating a score. At the next table, a player swiped hard, but met only air. Then a set of soft volleys turned to an exchange of hard shots until it ended in a net ball.

In table tennis, a player wins when they reach 11 points, if they are at least two points ahead. Up to five sets may need to be played before a winner is called.

“It’s a mental game”, quipped one spectator.

“Look, he’s going for the downspin,” said another.

“You are analyzing your opponent,” said Bill Cotton, Mission Staff for Team Alaska and former table tennis coach. “But the mental part is really in keeping control – you miss a ball, you go on, don’t let it get to you, focus on the next move.”

Hannah Cho and Trudy Quanaq won their respective semi-finals and went on to compete for the gold, with Team Nunavut pulling ahead in three of five close matches. Kathleen Cai of Team Northwest Territories and Lalita Atatahak of Team Nunavut competed for the bronze, with Team Northwest Territories gaining the bronze ulu in three matches.

The boys and girls that played in the singles events will now be prepping for the doubles and team events taking place later in the week. We hope you’ll head out to root for them and ask them about their mental strategies!


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