Bronx Science’s Girls’ Varsity Table Tennis Team: A True Adventure

The team ends the regular season with 12 wins and no losses.


Taken by Girls' Varsity Table Tennis Team Coach Joseph Motta

Here are the members of the Girls’ Varsity Table Tennis Team for Winter 2022-2023. From the top left to right: Manager Jessica Chen ’24, Mandy Phyu ’25, Tina Jiang ’24, Agatha Graham ’25, Alice Xing ’25, Ella Zheng ’24, Megan Lai ’24, Ada Hwang ’25, Irina Kolarova ’25, Madelyn Chin ’25, and Kara Chow ’24, and Jiwoo Hwang ’25, Sofia Lee Verovic ’26 and Manager Emily Xia ’24 (not present in the photo).

Winning PSAL championships for two years in a row in 2019 and 2021, along with placing second place in 2022, has encouraged the Girls’ Varsity Table Tennis Team to strive to maintain their newfound legacy. With twelve wins in the 2022-2023 Winter season, the team entered the playoff bracket as the fourth seed. 

The path to this success includes the pondering of the physics behind the movement of the ball and the social chemistry behind team bonding. At what angle should the paddle be placed to get the best underspin serves? How can we maximize the number of times the ball hits the corners and edges of tables? Science and math are both involved in a match in order to make sense of why the ball functions the way it does when you hit it with a paddle, while keeping the score in count as well. To win a match, one team needs to win the majority of five games.

This scene repeats itself every day: an orange ball is thrown up from the left hand as the right hand holding the paddle is ready to carry the ball over the net when they make contact with each other. The table tennis ball travels across the net at speeds upwards of 50 mph, and then travels back across the net as the opponent fires back. Every player serves twice in a row, oscillating the turns. One point is awarded when the opponent is unable to hit the ball over the net and onto the other side of the table. The first to 11 points wins a set, and the first to win three sets is declared the winner of a single game. The game may seem easy compared to other sports, but the various serves, shots, spins, and strategies are hard to master without constant practice and game experience.

Before the official start of the season, a formula to strengthen the team was drawn up. Recruiting and training more players became the first step in building a new team, especially with five star seniors leaving last season. Six new members joined the team, and everyone was ready to play during this cold yet invigorating winter season of 2022-2023. 

The second component was practice. During practice, the captains trained the members with new techniques and gave tips on areas of improvement. Team members played matches with one another, diagnosing their weaknesses, while also learning from each other. “Table tennis practice for the season this year was very productive. It was fun being able to play against my teammates from last season again and seeing how everyone has grown since then. It’s also been great meeting the new team members and seeing how they all play and fit into their own niches in our team,” said Megan Lai ’24. Team practice was every Monday to Thursday in the cafeteria, starting after Small Group Instructions, until 6:00 P.M. Despite the time commitment, everyone was hooked to play and win their way through playoffs and individual tournament.

Kara Chow ’24 (in front) and Ada Hwang ’25 practice in the cafeteria before the official start of a game.
(Grace Mao)

The practice component of a successful team is a regular occurrence, but this year, it was followed by the surprise return of two fellow team members, Gina Seo ’22 and Kristina Lian ’22, the first and second singles players from last year. Everyone was elated to see their return before Winter Break, and current members were eager to improve using the graduates’ advice as the team practiced with them. 

The third component was playing other teams. The team’s victory against Manhattan Center for Science & Math in their first game started the season off on the right foot. Kara Chow ’24, a doubles player said, “I was nervous in the beginning because it was our first time playing a formal match together, but everything worked out in the end. My partner [Ada Hwang ’25] and I were able to communicate and collaborate effectively.”

As the team advanced through the games and faced a variety of players, they encountered struggles just like any other team. The pressure to win all five matches weighs on the student athletes’ minds. “I struggle with overcoming my intimidation of players of the other team,” said Alice Xing ’25, also the captain. 

During the game with the High School of Art and Design, the match scores were down 0-2, bringing a low and tense mood to the team. Losing another match means that the team would have its first loss. However, the players were able to stay motivated and eager to reverse the score to 3-2, and they achieved that goal. Not winning all five matches was a disappointment at first due to the competitive environment and anticipation, but in the end, everyone had a piece of improvement to bring home amidst the cold weather.

Madelyn Chin ’25 is in a ‘ready position’ in order to start the second set of the match. (Dara King)

Learning from these experiences was more crucial in comparison to winning every game. “Don’t feel pressured that you have to win every game. Try your best, learn from your mistakes, and have fun. Remember to always look at the ball when you serve. Have confidence and we got this!” said Madelyn Chin ’25, the captain of the team, giving a pep talk to motivate the team members during the beginning of game matches. 

But as the first singles player, Chin encounters a lot of stress being the leading figure in the team. “As a captain, a lot of my time is taken up planning out practices and games with my co-captain. Balancing these responsibilities and expectations along with regular school work has been tough, especially from challenging classes like AP Biology and AP Calculus BC, along with Speech and Debate,” said Chin.

Chin and Xing also had another responsibility — guiding their members through the subway train. Traveling as a team was another explorative aspect of the games. The team gets to investigate a new landscape and set of skills from other players as they advance. Train rides provided the team time to bond and share fun aspects of their day or what started their passion for table tennis. However, sometimes traveling was confusing due to the location of their games. Many schools they competed against are located in Manhattan, so the team needed to transfer multiple trains, leading to wrong turns taken due to miscoordination. The far distance means that the players need to leave the building earlier, sometimes missing essential ninth-period classes. Nevertheless, these student-athletes were able to catch up on missing work and exceed their studies without leaving their passion for table tennis behind.

Alice Xing ’25 is focused on the ball and ready to serve. (Sophia Markens)

The team still prioritized table tennis over the Winter Break. The December 2022 end-of-month table tennis competition in Westchester attracted three of the members in competing to gain more experience. It was their first official tournament outside of the PSAL league. People of all ages, ratings, and locations showed up. It opened up a whole new world. They competed with players of all higher ratings, and though the results were not of expectation, the players were able to watch, observe, and reflect. 

“It was quite humbling, to say the least. I’ve learned many new things and met a variety of players. I’ve gone through many new experiences related to table tennis that I’ve never gone through before,” Xing said, excitedly sharing her takeaways.

As the cold winter breeze blew through, the team finished its regular season, completing an undefeated season, beating Samuel Gompers High School in the final match of the regular season for a 12-0 record. Members reflected upon the season. Jiwoo Hwang ’25 said, “The regular season was a very enjoyable and valuable experience, and we were motivated to continue our best work in the playoffs.”

Jiwoo Hwang ’25 and Ella Zheng ’24 play during a match where Jiwoo hits the ball back as Ella waits to take on the next ball. (Grace Mao)

Unfortunately, the team ended their season during the second round of playoffs with a score of 2-3 against Townsend Harris. The PSAL Girls Table Tennis Individuals was the last competitive event. The majority of the team, starters, and substitutes advanced through the round-robin, beating two players from other schools. Sadly, none progressed through the next round, marking the end of the table tennis expedition for this year.

Despite the loss, the team is proud of overcoming all the challenges encountered and growth over the months, and Coach Joseph Motta wants to leave a message. “I am so proud of the team because most teams that lose five seniors do not go undefeated the next season. It is also such a pleasure coaching and working with such nice girls who are very respectful, kind, hard-working individuals,” he said.

“Don’t feel pressured that you have to win every game, try your best, learn from your mistakes, and have fun. Remember to always look at the ball when you serve. Have confidence and we got this!” said Madelyn Chin ’25, the captain of the team, giving a pep talk to motivate the team members during the beginning of game matches.