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Mandy Yu: Byron's table tennis sensation

Mandy Yu is a resident of Byron and a Kellogg Middle School sixth-grader who also happens to be the best 11-year-old girls table tennis player in the country.

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Mandy Yu practices with her coach, Wei Qi, Friday March 26, 2021 in Rochester. Yu, a Rochester resident, recently won the 11-under division of The Patty and Si Wasserman Junior Table Tennis Tournament in Ohio. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

The best 11-under girls table tennis player in the country resides in Byron.

Her name is Mandy Yu, a Kellogg Middle School sixth-grader.

There is a girl who resides in the same house as her that isn’t far from her abilities. That is 8-year-old Abigail Yu, her sister.

Watch them play each other, the ball being smacked back and forth in such endless and rapid-fire succession, that it seems impossible that neither one of them is yet a teenager.

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That is true until a close look reveals that Abigail’s chin isn’t much above the table tennis playing surface.

“My sister is a lot better than I was at her age,” Mandy said, taking a break from one of her six-days per week marathon training sessions at Rochester Table Tennis Club in Northwest Rochester. There, she is instructed by U.S. National Development Team Coach Wei Qi, a Rochester resident who emigrated from China.

“When I was 8 years old, I barely knew how to play,” Mandy said. “(Abigail) will probably beat me soon. She’s getting closer.”

There are a whole bunch of 11 year olds around the country who would like to beat Mandy. But when the chips are down, none have been able to figure out how to do it.

At least not in the last couple of years. A long break from national table tennis tournaments was taken by all players recently as a result of the COVID pandemic. The last time that Mandy took part in one was in December of 2019 when she won the 10-under championship at the US National Table Tennis Open in Dallas. Five months before that, Mandy was crowned the 10-under champion at the US National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas.

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Mandy Yu practices with her coach, Wei Qi, Friday March 26, 2021 in Rochester. Yu, a Rochester resident, recently won the 11-under division of The Patty and Si Wasserman Junior Table Tennis Tournament in Ohio. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

Mandy played up a year in the Las Vegas event, just 9 at the time.

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She’s special. And not just with a table tennis paddle in her hand. The daughter of Mayo Clinic employees Lifeng Yu and Chun Fan, who immigrated to the United State from China 20 years ago, Mandy is also a straight-A’s student, plays the piano and violin and is a figure skater.

There is one thing that Qi believes separates his star pupil from everyone else. It is her mental strength.

“Mandy has a very strong mind,” said Wei Qi, who started working with Mandy five years ago, when she first took up the game. “There are a number of people (nationally) who have equal ability to her.”

Her father, a medical physicist in the Mayo Clinic radiology department, agrees.

“It is mainly mental,” Lifeng said. “I have seen some kids who are more skillful than she and more athletic. But when they compete with her, you can see the difference. You have to make different strategies for different points. And Mandy is able to do that. You have to have a strategy, and you have to carry it out. And she can do both. She doesn’t fall apart.”

It isn’t just a strong mind that has Mandy sitting firmly with a No. 1 national ranking in her age group, one that was reaffirmed in March when she won a big tournament in Ohio, the Patty and Si Wasserman Junior Table Tennis Tournament. Mandy was first among 11-year-olds and also played two years up, finishing second in the 13-under group.

It is also all of that skill of hers, an ability to attack the ball from all angles and make subtle changes as matches dictate.

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Mandy Yu practices with her coach, Wei Qi, Friday March 26, 2021 in Rochester. Yu, a Rochester resident, recently won the 11-under division of The Patty and Si Wasserman Junior Table Tennis Tournament in Ohio. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

There are two primary places to hand credit for that. It is her insatiable appetite to get better, bringing on table tennis workouts with Qi that take three hours of her day, six days per week. Practice makes, in this case, a champion as well as a future Olympic Games hopeful.

And then there is Qi himself.

“Wei is a national coach, so he knows his stuff,” Mandy said. “He is very encouraging all the time. Sometimes he gets a little bit mad at me, but not too much.”

Mandy believes that Qi will get her to where she wants to go.

“My goal is to be an Olympian,” she said. “I know it’s going to take a lot of effort, but I want to do it. Being good at this helps me meet a lot of people and have a lot of opportunities.”

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