Western's table tennis team doesn't get much love on campus. In fact, if the Mustangs' website is any indication, the team appears to have not had a schedule since the 2011-12 campaign.
But one Mustangs athlete will be representing the purple and white at the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association's (NCTTA) national championship tournament in Eau Claire, Wisconsin from April 7-9.
First-year BMOS student and Edmonton native, Kelly Li, will be competing in the 2017 TMS College Table Tennis National Championships alongside athletes from Canada and the United States.
The NCTTA is divided into seven regions. Western competes in the Greater Toronto Area region, which consists of Ontario universities and colleges.
Li went 11-15 during the NCTTA season and has mixed emotions about how her first collegiate table tennis season went.
"I think, because I haven't really played in five years, it's definitely been a transition to get back into the routine again," she said. "But with all the team support I think I did good enough, but not as well as I could have done if I was able to practice a lot more."
Coming from Alberta, Li stopped playing the sport at a high level in junior high. But when deciding on a university to attend, the fact that Western had a sanctioned table tennis program was one of the factors in her choice to come to London.
"I'm from Alberta and table tennis isn't one of the big sports in Alberta," said Li. "I did compete for the provincial team but I kind of stopped in junior high. I just played recreationally so coming into the varsity team has been a transition."
The coach of the Mustangs program is Eunice Chan, a former Mustangs player who is currently pursuing her PhD in applied mathematics. According to Chan, Li has been one of the team's most energetic and committed members.
In short, she's precisely the kind of athlete that Chan wishes to recruit to the program.
"She's been such a good team member and her skill is much more advanced than some people that I do recruit for the team," said Chan. "During tryouts I try to find people who are very dedicated and I can see that they can improve. I don't necessarily take the best players because occasionally when you take good players they're not committed and don't come to practice. She's been there the whole time training and it's been awesome."
Li is excited to compete in the national championship tournament, where she will have the opportunity to compete against the best of the best at the collegiate level.
But she also anticipates building relationships with the athletes she will compete against.
"First of all, nationals is when the best players come together," said Li. "So meeting my role models that I haven't seen in many years will be great, including some people who have competed in the Olympics and World Championships is something that I'm really excited about. But as a university student, just getting to know new people both as players and then on a personal level will bring everyone together because we share that common interest in the sport."
It's been a dry season for Mustangs athletics this winter. And although Li will head to Wisconsin as an underdog, she has the opportunity to compete against the stars of the sport while donning the Western colours.