North Texas Daily

After up and down season, tennis is ready to make a run in postseason

After up and down season, tennis is ready to make a run in postseason

Junior Sille Tranberg completes a powerful serve during singles rounds. Josh Jamison

After up and down season, tennis is ready to make a run in postseason
April 19
00:10 2018

The North Texas team will head to Norfolk, Virginia to compete in the Conference USA tournament. The Mean Green come into the tournament as a No. 6 seed and will play No. 13 seed University of Alabama at Birmingham in the first round on Thursday at 3 p.m.

The team is carrying some momentum coming into the tournament, especially after a convincing 4-1 win against the University of Texas at Arlington in their home finale. Head coach Sujay Lama is hopeful this level of play will carry over into their first match.

“We feel good with where we are now and what we’re about to do,” Lama said. “Now it’s about going out there having fun playing freely, joyfully and aggressively.”

The Mean Green had a rough regular season, going 8-13, their worst since 2006, Lama’s first year with the team. North Texas fought injuries, youth and lineup shuffling throughout the season as well as facing a tough schedule to prepare them for conference play.

Lama believes heading into tournament play none of the regular season wins or losses carry over. Instead he just wants his team to have a clear mindset and remember the original goal heading into the season.

“This is a brand new season, right?” Lama said. “It’s a 0-0 [record] for everybody. This is what we’ve prepared for all year long, and this what we look forward to. Our schedule and the grind that we went through the whole year coupled with the adversity that we’ve faced has prepared us for this moment.”

The Mean Green have shuffled double’s lineups recently, which has led to promising results. Lama decided to split up junior Tamuna Kutubidze and sophomore Alexandria Heczey.

This has given the team much needed flexibility knowing that their top three players are playing on separate courts, thus increasing their chance of winning the doubles point.

Heczey has been playing doubles with freshman Nidhi Surapaneni for the past three matches. They went unfinished in their first match together against the University of Tulsa, then picked up a loss the next week against Southern Methodist University. However, things started to finally click for them last weekend as they picked up a dominant 6-1 win against UTA.

Heczey believes having a partner like Kutubidze early in the season has made the transition to her next duos partner easier as she uses what she learned from Kutubidze.

“I have a lot of respect for her, and she taught me a lot,” Heczey said. “Now I feel like I have to do the same with Nidhi. I have a lot of trust in her, and she has a lot of trust in me.”

Kutubidze, meanwhile, has been doubles partners with sophomore Haruka Sasaki for the past two matches, and the pair has been undefeated, boding well for them heading into the tournament.

Kutubidze, who has been battling synovitis in her elbow the past few weeks, says the wins have definitely boosted her confidence in recent weeks.

“Mentally, I wasn’t there the last three weeks, but against UTA, I clinched the match, and it helped me a lot,” Kutubidze said of her singles win. “On my MRI I found out nothing was torn, so mentally I think I’m in a better position.”

Junior’s Maria Kononova and Minying Liang will continue being partners throughout the tournament, presumably as the No. 1 doubles team. This duo is 5-3 overall this season.

The doubles point will prove to be crucial for North Texas in this tournament. While the pairings being used going in have the confidence and record of winning, overall the Mean Green are 18-29 this season in doubles matches.

But they know what they are capable of when the combinations are clicking.

“I’m very positive about my team and my teammates,” Kononova said. “I know how hard we’ve been working and how high we set our goals. I know everyone’s gonna do their best and compete to win.”

Throughout the season, injuries have marred a talented Mean Green team’s record, but Lama and company know what they are capable of when their bodies are right.

“We are as healthy as we’ve been all season long,” Lama said. “The starters are back and healthy. We just have to make sure that they keep doing what they’re doing, which is preparing their bodies for the competition.”

In the first round, the Mean Green take on the 11-seeded UAB team who finished the season 11-12 and 1-2 in C-USA play.

The Mean Green have Kononova at the one seed who has been a top 60 player in the country for the majority of the season. Meanwhile, the Blazer’s No. 1 seed, Alex Shchipakina, ended the season with a 6-11 record all as the top seed.

If the Mean Green can steal the doubles point, the pressure will shift to the singles matches which favors North Texas on paper. If the Mean Green make it out of the first round, they will meet the three seed Old Dominion University in the second round on Friday at 2 p.m.

“Coach Tjia is a really good friend of mine and is a terrific coach [at UAB], so I have a lot of respect for what he is doing there, and he does a great job,” Lama said. “We know that they are going to come out aggressively, and we have to prepare ourselves. This is the the conference championship, so we have to be ready right off the go.”

Despite the season not going the way the Mean Green wanted it to go, North Texas remains upbeat and ready to take on the challenge of being a lower seed in this conference tournament. 

“It’s not the regular season we were hoping for, but I think everything happens for a reason,” Lama said. “I really feel good about coming into conference this year, and I feel that something special is brewing.”

Featured Image: Junior Sille Tranberg completes a powerful serve during singles rounds. Josh Jamison

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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