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Youngest US Team Member in History Crystal Wang, 12, Makes USA National Team By Larry Hodges It’s 3PM at the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland. You know this because Crystal Wang has just arrived, as she does every day, Mon-Fri, right after school. She has her homework and playing stuff, and changes into her table tennis clothes. Sometimes she gets her homework done first; she’s in the magnet program at Roberto Clemente Middle School, where she’s a six grader. Other times she goes straight to a practice session. But it’s going to be a long afternoon and night at the club, as she practically lives there. Sometime later that night, after perhaps two training sessions, service practice, lots of practice matches, and a jump rope session, she’ll go home. But it’s all paying off. On Sunday, March 16, Crystal made history by becoming, at 12 years and 14 days, the youngest member of the USA National Team, according to USATT Historian Tim Boggan. That was at Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth, Texas. Less than 24 hours later and 1400 miles away, Crystal arrived at MDTTC at 3PM after school on Monday, as usual, and was all set to continue her training, even after three days of grueling play. We had to order her to take a day off – she wants to practice. It’s a habit. Crystal trains seven days a week, an idea that’s foreign to much of western civilization but is normal for many Chinese players. I asked her when she takes days off, and she said, “When I’m sick. But only if I’m really sick, like with a fever.” She does admit to being tired sometimes, and that’s when training is hard. But it’s what she needs to make the USA Olympic Team, the shining goal in the sky she is aiming for. If she does that, then the goal is to medal. If she does that, then the goal is a gold medal. If she does that, well, then she can take a few days off. Perhaps. Crystal went into the USA Team Trials with a rating of 2395 – she’s just turned twelve, think about that for a moment – which would have seeded her third, two points behind #2 Judy Hugh. But because they were using slightly older ratings she was seeded 7th at “only” 2304, and so she faced #1 seed and 2012 USA Women’s Singles Champion Lily Zhang in the quarterfinals on Friday, losing 4-1. Lily went on to clinch the #1 spot, with a 4-3 battle over Tina Lin in the semifinals, and 4-1 in the final over Erica Wu. (The Trials were run as three single elimination tournaments, with the USA Team consisting of the winners on day one and two, and the two finalists on day three.)

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On Saturday, Crystal and Prachi Jha had a titanic struggle in the quarterfinals. Crystal won the first two easily; Prachi won the next two easily, and pulled out the fifth 11-9. Up 3-2 and leading 7-1 in the sixth, it looked like Prachi was going to win, but Crystal came back to win in deuce. In the seventh, with Crystal up 8-5, it looked like she was going to win and finish second on the team, but Prachi won the last six points to win the game and advance. She would go on to clinch the #2 spot, winning 4-0 against Judy Hugh in the semifinals and 4-1 over Angela Guan in the final. Crystal could only put aside what might have been and focus on the final day. It was on Sunday that Crystal went on a rampage. She won 4-0 in the first round over Tia Hsieh; 4-1 over Tina Lin (and her ferocious backhand smash) in the quarterfinals; 4-0 in the semifinals over chopper Angela Guan (having 2600 chopper Wang Qing Liang as a practice partner and coach at the Trials helped), and 4-2 in the final over Erica Wu, thereby clinching the #3 spot on the team, with Erica getting the #4 spot. She’s a bit excited these days, not just about making the U.S. National Team, but about upcoming travel. She’s going to the Canadian Junior & Cadet Open in Toronto, April 10-13. Then she’ll be going to Tokyo for a training camp (April 24-27) and then the World Team Championships (April 28 -May 5). It may seem that all Crystal does is table tennis and school. But that’s not quite true, even if she seems perpetually at a table practicing something. “I like shopping, skiing, and ice skating,” she said. In fact, it was just a couple of months ago that she and other top MDTTC juniors went on a joint skiing trip, much to the horror of some of us, who debated which one would return with a broken leg. (All came back healthy and ready to practice.) She also likes Korean Drama, and is a big fan of the Hunger Games (both books and movies). She also likes to watch and draw anime. School is also important to her, and she’s a dedicated student, which is why she’s in a magnet program despite all her table tennis hours. She has straight A’s, with one exception. “I have an 89.4% average in English,” she laments, “just 0.6% from an A!” She also goes to Chinese School on Saturdays, which she described as “Really boring.” She added, “But I get bored easily. We have a drawing class afterwards which is more interesting. Right now Photo by David DelVecchio

USA Table Tennis Magazine (2014 Spring)  
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