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A Table, Some Tennis, and a Handful of Athletes

Oct 2, 2012, 12:04 PM EDT

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The bracket (click for a larger view).

Notre Dame sent a record number of athletes to the 2012 Summer Olympics. None of those athletes were there for table tennis; however, that all may change in the near future.

Monday evening marked the First Annual Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) Table Tennis Tournament. (That’s a mouthful.) Athletes from the football, hockey, men’s and women’s swimming & diving, men’s golf, baseball, softball, fencing, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, volleyball, men’s track & field, rowing, and the Student Welfare and Development staff participated in the single-elimination tournament to win a trophy and a table tennis table for the winning team’s players’ lounge.

Mike Golic Jr., a football representative for SAAC and the Master of Ceremonies for the event, said of the Tournament’s birth, “This was kind of a collective SAAC idea. At our first meeting, student welfare development, Keith [Embray], Mike [Harrity], and Sarah [Smith], all challenged us to come up with something sort of home-grown within the group of student athletes to get everyone together, so we kind of relied on our common interests. Everyone’s very competitive—we know that—and we all love sports, so what better way to put that all together than table tennis?”

The low-risk, essentially danger-free sport was ideal for the SAAC, many of whose members’ sports are in-season. “[...] we could have gone knock-out, stuff like that, but it’s a little too physical, so with this one we eliminate the possibility of injury…and it was easy to put together with the budget and with the space that we had, so it worked out very well.”

After a reading of the tournament rules, announcement of the teams, and a playing of the National Anthem (followed by a “USA!” chant), the five-round tournament began. The first three rounds would be won by the first team who reached 11 points; the last two, by the first to reach 21.

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Members of the Irish women’s tennis team (from left: Jennifer Kellner, Chrissie McGaffigan, Molly O’Koniewski, Quinn Gleason and JoHanna Manningham) at the first annual SAAC Table Tennis tournament.

Despite having a table tennis table in their players’ lounge already, the football team (which consisted of Golic Jr. and a stand-in due to the absence of fellow football SAAC representatives Braxston Cave and Kapron Lewis-Moore), was knocked out of the tournament in the first round by the softball team. (Surely, they would have dominated a trick-shot tournament.) So too, the hockey team, who also has a table tennis table in their facility, fell in the first round to a tournament-favorite: women’s tennis.

Women’s tennis player, senior Chrissie McGaffigan said, “We want the title more than anyone. We have the determination. We warmed up this morning, but on a bigger court.” The team only advanced one more round before falling to dark-horse, men’s soccer.

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Junior Greg Andrews (men’s tennis) – proud winner of the first annual SAAC Table Tennis tournament.

The final round found itself in a match-up between men’s soccer and (other tournament favorite) men’s tennis. During the match, members from both teams stood by, hoping their teammates could win the table, the trophy, and the title. After minutes of play, tennis team members junior Greg Andrews and sophomore Wyatt McCoy triumphed over soccer 21-13.

After the win, Andrews stated, “We really wanted that table for our tennis center, so we had to win.” Now he and his fellow men’s tennis players can practice their sport in normal and miniaturized fashion.

One of the purposes of the Notre Dame SAAC, as listed on its website, is to “[Improve] relationships between and among teams and individual student-athletes.” The Table Tennis Tournament was the perfect way for the student-athletes to enjoy each other’s company, bond some, be a little less serious than they normally have to be, and, ultimately, have fun. As a spectator, it was amusing. As a writer, it was intriguing. As an Irish fan, it was one of the most fun Notre Dame events I’ve ever attended, and I hope it continues for years to come.

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