Courtesy of Mike Lauro, Jr.
The Little Rock Table Tennis Club is excited to provide this tournament report for 2019 LRTTC Winter Giant Round Robin Tournament.
First, thanks go to our two sponsors, Paddle Palace, and the Arkansas Table Tennis Academy. Paddle Palace (paddlepalace.com) provided the Nittaku 3-star premium tournament balls and PaddlePalace banners. They have also worked with our club over the last several years to upgrade all of our tables to the Donic Waldner Classic 25. We are proud of our relationship with Paddle Palace and hope to continue supporting each other throughout the new year. The newly established Arkansas Table Tennis Academy (arktta.org), owned by Mike Lauro, Jr., USATT National, and ITTF Level 3 Coach and 2018 Volunteer Coach of the Year, provided 2 additional Donic Waldner Classic 25 tables and some of the prize money for the tournament.
We also owe a huge THANK YOU to Eugene Atha, a certified referee, and umpire, who has been at the helm of many tournaments in Arkansas over the past 30 years. Eugene handled all of the draws, many of the tournament day control desk responsibilities, and helped to move tables across town the days before and after the tournament. His tireless hard work, dedication, and wisdom as the tournament director made this tournament shine. Thanks, Eugene!
The board of directors for the Little Rock Table Tennis Club, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit, includes myself, Jeff Pratt (who also served as tournament umpire), Kedar Jambhekar, Charlie Brooks, and Olaf Hoershcelmann, All of us enjoyed volunteering our time to help with setup before and take down after the tournament. This group is responsible for the day to day activities of the club and we’ve enjoyed seeing many of the positive changes with the club over the years. We are also very excited about hosting the USA Hopes camp and qualifying tournament at our club on February 22-24, 2019. We want to welcome any youth players around the country to come join our camp and enjoy a wonderful table tennis experience. Please visit our club website lrttc.org for details on the February 22-24 USA Hopes Camp in Little Rock.
We would also like to LRTTC members who volunteered their time and money to help with various tournament tasks. Mark Taylor and Mohan Reddy planned and donated money to purchase the food and sports drinks for everyone at the tournament. Many members helped with setting up tables, covering the windows with tarps, assembling barriers, and storing everything after the tournament was over. Thank you Jeff Pratt, Olaf Hoerschelmann, Charlie Brooks, Kedar Jambhekar, Siva Soora, Darius Ford, Louis Vance, Kitt Oudthone, Tanner Cook, and Vasu Bharadwaj. Apologies if we missed anyone. Thanks to everyone who pitched in for this tournament.
The tournament was the second USATT-sanctioned tournament at LRTTC since our first one back in the spring of 2014. The 2014 tournament was a 0-star tournament while our tournament this year was a 2-star tournament. The 2014 event was held at our previous location before the club moved to its current location at the Jim Dailey Fitness & Aquatic Center in the fall of 2015.
During our time at the Dailey Fitness Center, the club has benefited from a mutually beneficial relationship with Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department. Little Rock Parks has worked with us over the last several years to expand the number of days and times that we are able to play per week. Now we have playing opportunities every day of the week. We have been able to reserve the gymnasium for our larger events, including our annual Friends of India tournaments which are always popular. For future tournaments, we hope to bring in more sponsors to benefit LRTTC, Little Rock Parks and the community.
This tournament included a singles giant round-robin event with a field of 29 players and 2 doubles events. The Over 3200 Doubles consisted of 5 teams in a single elimination format. The Under 3200 with 4 teams was a round robin format. In singles, all players advanced from the initial stage to the second stage consisting of two groups in each division for A, B, C, and D. The top 2 players in each group advanced to a crossover semi-final for their division.
Liedy Handoko from Cordova, TN was a finalist in the LRTTC 2014 Giant Round Robin tournament. This year he returned to the finals but was unable to overcome the play of Ricardo Criado, a former national team member of Puerto Rico. Criado said of his experience at the tournament, “It was so much fun to play again after not having played tournaments in a long time. I was fortunate to make it to the finals and compete against Liedy. I had to play my best against him. He’s very smart and is a master of defense. Fortunately, my coach in Puerto Rico was a chopper, so I’ve had many hours of training against defensive players. My training partner Mike Lauro and I had a few recent practice sessions at his new Arkansas Table Tennis Academy. He also plays a defensive style with long pips, and we had some intense practice sessions. This really helped me play against Mike in the semifinals and to overcome Liedy in the finals. I’m looking forward to playing more table tennis.” Liedy Handoko is also a 4-time Arkansas Open champion from 2008 through 2011. He and his teammates from the Memphis area have always been great supporters of our tournaments here in Little Rock over the years.
Division B semi-finals consisted of players from 4 different regions: Perry Smith (Holly Springs, MS), Vasu Bharadwaj (Little Rock, AR), Jason Piech (Rogers, AR), and Varun Coona (Memphis, TN). Jason and Perry advanced to the finals, with Jason winning in 3 close games at 9, 8, and 11 to position himself as the Division B champion. Congratulations to Jason Piech and to Perry Smith!
Division C semi-finals saw lefty Alex Piech in the field with 3 other players from Central Arkansas. In one semi-final, Darius Ford and John Falco battled it out to the 5th set. Darius lost the first and third games 8-11, but won the 2nd game 16-14 and the 4th game 11-9. Darius edged out John in the 5th game 11-9. In the other semi-final, Alex Piech got behind early, losing the first game to Olaf Hoerschelmann. Alex rallied to win the next 3 games to advance to the final against Darius. In an effort that would not disappoint, Alex and Darius fought through another 5 game match. Alex won the first game, Darius the second, Alex the third, and Darius the fourth. The final game saw Alex surpass Darius 12-10 to claim the Division C championship.
Division D semi-finals consisted of three new players, Emanuel Horvat, Manikandan Kuppusamy, and Vignesh Ramesh, compete in their first USATT sanctioned tournament. The other semi-finalist David Willard was competing in his second sanctioned tournament. In the first semi-final, David defeated Emanuel 3-0, while in the other semi-final Manikandan defeated Vignesh 3-0. Manikandan claimed the Division D championship with a 3-0 victory over David. Emanuel came in 3rd and Vignesh 4th.
After the singles competition concluded, the two doubles events took place.
The Over 3200 kicked off with a preliminary match between Kedar Jambhekar and Mike Harris against Vasu Bharadwaj and Siva Soora. Vasu and Siva dropped the first 2 games at -10 and -9. Not be dealt a defeat this day, they rallied winning the next 2 sets at 7 and 4. The 5th set could have gone either way, but Vasu and Siva stayed the course and fought hard to win 18-16! They advanced to the semifinal, but lost to the eventual champions Liedy Handoko and Raj Coona, both from Tennessee.
In the other half of the draw, brothers Alex Piech and Jason Piech had a showdown. Each brother chose an older partner allowing for the best lefty-righty combination hoping it would bring success. Lefty Alex teamed up with Division A singles champion righty Ricardo Criado, while righty Jason teamed up with Division A 3rd place finisher lefty Mike Lauro. Mike and Jason fended off Alex and Ricky but were unable to take a set from the eventual champions Liedy and Raj.
The Under 3200 was a round robin format. The deciding match came down to the last matchup between top 2 seeded teams: Kitt Oudthone and Louis Vance against Charlie Brooks and Tanner Cook. Both teams had won their previous matches. Kitt Oudthone and Louis Vance won the first set, dropped the next 2, and then won the 4th set to even the score. The fifth and final game was full of suspense and excitement, with Kitt and Louis claiming victory with a win of 15-13.
After the tournament, we caught up with the Piech brothers. Jason Piech, 12, said, “for the last three years I’ve been playing in tournaments in Little Rock, and every tournament is great. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing partners for doubles. I’m so excited that a USA Hopes camp and tournament will be in my home state of Arkansas! I’m practicing now and looking forward to it.” Alex, 9, shared this thought, “Little Rock has some of my favorite players. They call us the Piech assassins. I’ve learned a lot about great sportsmanship from the players there.”
Another junior player who is new to the sport, Aaron Tran, participated in his first USATT sanctioned tournament. He and his mom Sara Tran have recently started practicing at the newly established Arkansas Table Tennis Academy founded by Mike Lauro. When asked about his first tournament, Aaron said “There were so many levels of players. It was a wonderful experience for a beginner. This was an eye-opening experience and a key driver for my commitment.”
Many of the players commented that they were impressed by the high quality of the playing conditions, including the bright lights, wood flooring, Donic tables, and the Nittaku 3-star premium balls. Jeff Pratt, an LRTTC board member, and tournament official added, “At LRTTC, we really like these Donic tables from Paddle Palace. For our regular monthly tournaments and our bigger community and sanctioned tournaments, we use the Nittaku 3-star premium plastic balls because of their superior quality and consistent bounce. The playing conditions at the Jim Dailey Fitness and Aquatic Center are ideal for table tennis.” Charlie Brooks, a veteran LRTTC player, emphasizes “the Nittaku balls are used in other sanctioned tournaments in this region, and we’ve come to expect a high-quality ball for competitive play. The 3-star premium balls by Nittaku are second to none.”
During the lunch break, the Piech brothers and their parents Bill and Sharon, surprised Mike Lauro with a special (and gigantic!) cake decorated to resemble a table tennis table with paddles and balls to celebrate Mike’s achievement of being selected as the 2018 USATT Volunteer Coach of the Year. Sharon Piech told Mike “when we saw your name in the USATT announcement, we knew it was a special occasion that deserved a fantastic cake!” Mike explained, “the cake was so thoughtful and kind, it totally surprised me! The experience was unforgettable. We have amazing people in Arkansas who love table tennis and care about one another, and no one exemplifies that more than the Piech family.”
Finally, we’d like to thank USA Table Tennis for continuing to support the sport we love and to all the players, tournament officials, and volunteers without whose dedication this tournament would not have been possible. See you all at our next tournament!
Results – Singles
Champion: Ricardo Criado (Jacksonville, AR)
Finalist: Liedy Handoko (Cordova, TN)
3rd Place: Mike Lauro (Little Rock, AR)
4th Place: Mike Harris (Alexandria, AL)
Champion: Jason Piech (Rogers, AR)
Finalist: Perry Smith (Holly Springs, MS)
3rd Place: Vasu Bharadwaj (Little Rock, AR)
4th Place: Varun Coona (Memphis, TN)
Champion: Alex Piech (Rogers, AR)
Finalist: Darius Ford (Little Rock, AR)
3rd Place: John Falco (Benton, AR)
4th Place: Olaf Hoerschelmann (Little Rock, AR)
Champion: Mani Kuppusamy (Fort Smith, AR)
Finalist: David Willard (Belleville, AR)
3rd Place: Emanuel Horvat (Russellville, AR)
4th Place: Vignesh Ramesh (Bentonville, AR)
Results – Doubles
Over 3200 (5 teams, single elimination)
Champions: Liedy Handoko and Raj Coona (TN)
Finalist: Mike Lauro and Jason Piech (AR)
Under 3200 (4 teams, round robin)
Champions: Kitt Oudthone and Louis Vance (AR)
Finalist: Charlie Brooks and Tanner Cook (AR)
We had participants from 4 states and 18 cities. Four players were under 18 and at least 3 players were members of the military.
We had 12 matches that ended in 5th-game showdowns!
Alex Piech over Darius Ford in the Division C Finals 12-10.
Mike Lauro over Martin Johnson in the Division A RR 11-9.
Vasu over Varun Coona in Division B 3rd Place match, 11-9.
Charlie Brooks over Kitt Oudthone in the Division C RR 15-13.
Darius Ford over John Falco in Division C Semifinal 11-9.
Alex Piech over Darius Ford in Division C Final 12-10.
John Falco over Olaf Hoerschelmann in Division C 3rd Place 11-6.
Jason Piech over Olaf Hoerschelmann in ABCD RR 11-9.
Olaf Hoerschelmann over Mani Kuppusamy in ABCD RR 11-5.
Varun Coona over Darius Ford in ABCD RR 11-8.
Vasu and Siva over Kedar and Mike H. in Over 3200 doubles, 18-16.
Kitt and Louis over Tanner and Charlie in Under 3200 doubles, 15-13.