Confidence is key as tennis moves into new era

Confidence is key as tennis moves into new era

Confidence is key as tennis moves into new era
April 24
18:44 2019

North Texas Tennis will attempt to move into the 2019-20 season without its most successful class of players in program history. Seniors Maria Kononova, Tamuna Kutubidze and Minying Liang leave behind some of the best records the Mean Green have ever seen and their absence will also be felt off the court.

“There will be a void from a leadership standpoint,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “But that’s the challenge that I love. I love to have the returners become bigger leaders, I love to develop the younger ones into great team players and family-oriented players that want to take on some leadership roles.”

Junior Haruka Sasaki will see her role increased immensely in the next season. She was in and out of the team’s lineup this season but contributed when she was called upon.

“This season is not easy for me mentally but I just want to help my team who I love the most and hope to be successful in any way I can,” Sasaki told meangreensports.com in March. “I’ll continue to give my best in every practice and am willing to push myself as well as my teammates.”

Sasaki will become a leader for the team next year along with sophomore Nidhi Surapaneni and junior Alexandra Heczey. All three hope to instill their knowledge of the program onto the new players.

“As a freshman, I did struggle because I didn’t know what the procedures were and everything,” Surapaneni said. “I think for the incoming freshmen that’s the first thing I’m going to tell them, how everything is going to work.”

The sophomore made strides in her development throughout her second year. She ended the season on a high note when she clinched the Mean Green’s upset of defending champion Florida International in the 2019 Conference USA Tournament.

“Last year when I had an opportunity to clinch in the regular season when I was a freshman, I was kind of nervous,” Surapaneni said. “This time I was like, OK, I’m not a freshman anymore, I need to play like I’m a sophomore. That did increase my confidence and I hope it will help me play even better in the next season.”

Surapaneni also said she will take things that she has learned from the senior players and try to emulate them. She was especially close with Kutubidze during their time together on the team.

“It’s their confidence,” Surapaneni said. “I love all three of their confidence. Whenever they’re on the court, it never looks like they’re going to lose. Their confidence is amazing.”

The three seniors will be replaced by recruits Sophia Hummel, Louisa Junghanns, Halla Khaled and Keuxan Zhou in the fall. Hummel and Junghanns will come to Denton from Germany, Khaled from Egypt and Zhou from China.

“I think we have a really good combination,” Lama said. “We have talent, but there’s some athleticism too. There are different backgrounds and cultures. They are rated very highly talent-wise. It’s just exciting times to see new faces and see how they’ll evolve.”

Lama does not plan on changing the team’s standards despite them being younger and more inexperienced. He embraces the challenge of keeping the team successful every season.

“That’s the fun part of my job,” Lama said. “Every couple of years or every year you have a new team basically. The goal is always how do you again redefine yourself. Even this year we didn’t have anybody new, but we still tried to create something new.”

There will be no need to force that creation next year with a majority of the roster being new players. Lama will look to the players he does have returning to continue getting better as they hold up the team’s culture.

“I’m just proud of their growth and I see them continuing that upward trajectory,” Lama said. “I think as they unwind their careers they have a little more sense of urgency because they’re getting towards the end.”

A major goal for the team is to get players that will be leaving the program a conference championship before they leave. The team was unable to do that for their graduating class, but their goal will not change for next season.

“The goal is obviously to win the conference championship and win the NCAAs,” Lama said. “We didn’t really accomplish our goals we set for this year, but hopefully we have more of those years ahead.”

Lama stressed that the offseason will be key to continued success in the next season. He said he feels that is the time when champions are made and that match experience will help the team the most.

“The returners just need match play,” Lama said. “They need to play tournaments. They’re working hard, but where you really develop is playing match, after match, after match.”

The team will likely begin their 2019-20 season in late September. The fall will give them a chance to play in a variety of tournaments before they begin individual team matches in the spring season.

Featured Image: Junior Ivana Babic shouts in excitement after winning a point against Kansas State at the Waranch Tennis Complex on Feb. 14, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry.

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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