Three local youths are hoping to serve up success on the provincial stage next month.
Matthew Lehmann, 16, and Kaitlyn and Shaelynn Su, 13 and 12, respectively, will feature in a 17-person table tennis tournament at the 2014 Manitoba Winter Games in Morden, Stanley and Winkler from March 2 to 8.
The players at the Games will range in age from 12 and 17 and hail from across Winnipeg. Also in the contingent is head coach Milcho Uzunov and five volunteers.
Team manager Norman Tran — whose daughter, Naomi, 13 and son, Jeremy, 12, are also on the team — said the games will provide a chance for team members to compete against each other in an all-singles format, and they will be the first of three trials for the 2015 Canada Winter Games in B.C.
Tran highlighted the dedication of both the team’s coach and the athletes, who currently count Darwin School among their practice venues.
"Our association is very fortunate to have a new coach, that we hired last February, who is not only the best player in Manitoba but also a very committed coach with years of professional coaching experience," Tran said.
"The athletes have their practices up to as many as five times per week from September to June in the evenings and on weekends. Some athletes have been playing competitive table tennis for eight or nine years."
Lehmann, who is touted as a rising star in local circles, is hoping to help raise the profile and perception of table tennis in Manitoba.
"Considering it’s an Olympic sport, I’m hoping more people here will begin to see table tennis as more than a basement sport," Lehmann said, noting he has participated in national events, and rates his chances of success next month.
"I think the sport is growing in the province with the younger crowd, and there are lots of players around nine or 10 who are just starting out, but there are still lots of people who don’t really know what table tennis all about."
In terms of his skill set, the J. H. Bruns Collegiate student has one slight advantage off the bat.
"It helps to be left-handed, as the ball comes at you slightly differently. You also have to have a good touch, good control and pretty fast reactions," Lehmann said.
Kaitlyn Su says she enjoys demonstrating table tennis techniques such as "looping or spinning" the ball, and she’s also looking forward to leaving town.
"We don’t usually get to travel much but this should be fun, as we get travel with our friends," said Kaitlyn, who attends École St. Germain.
"I think people might be more attached to hockey or team sports that might be more thrilling to watch, but I like watching table tennis," added Shaelynn, who also goes to École St. Germain.
"I like watching people’s different service techniques, as they have different hand motions and spins. Your service is really important, as it can start off a good play."
For more information, visit www.mtta.ca