North Texas Daily

Mean Green tennis confident and prepared as season gets underway

Mean Green tennis confident and prepared as season gets underway

September 14
14:07 2016

Representing eight countries and three continents, this year’s Mean Green tennis team is easily the most diverse team on campus. Only one of the eight girls on the roster is from the U.S.

Along with diversity, the team may finish 2016 as one of the most accomplished programs at North Texas. Since the eight girls who make up this squad have varying backgrounds and experiences, the challenge was to make the team mesh as quickly as possible.

“This team is all about family,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “Day one that’s something that we talk about to them constantly. We do a lot of team building activities whether it’s a small game here or a meal that we eat together at my house.”

Although tennis is an individual or two-player sport, the chemistry and relationships between players and coaches are vital throughout the year.

Lama is beginning his eleventh year at North Texas and associate head coach Jeff Hammond is starting his fourth. Together, the duo create an intense yet enjoyable environment for the players on a daily basis.

“My favorite part of playing for [Lama and Hammond] is the excitement and enthusiasm they bring about tennis everyday,” senior captain Alexis Thoma said. “They really have a passion to coach their sport.”

Maria Kananova. North Texas Athletics

Maria Kananova. North Texas Athletics

Last year, the Mean Green finished with a 13-10 record and lost in the Conference USA semifinals in mid-April. However, the program lost three seniors from that squad, and will turn to youth in hopes of replenishing the talent.

And for the time being, the three freshman poised to fill the void seem well equipped to keep North Texas competitive.

“That’s always hard to replace exactly what [the seniors] brought to the table,” Lama said. “But at the same time, when you look at the new girls and what they bring to the table, it’s really exciting and energizing.”

Four of the returning players this year are sophomores. Two of them, Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze, played well enough to get a spot on First Team C-USA for both singles and doubles.

The eight girls all have unique skill sets, but Hammond has noticed most of the players share a certain trait.

“We added more power to the lineup with the new players,” Hammond said. “Some of the players are coming in with good ball striking capabilities and power.”

Filling out the final, but leading spot on this eight-woman roster is senior Alexis Thoma.

The undisputed captain, Thoma leads the team in stretches and drills every day in practice. During her tenure, she has been a consistent piece for Lama and the coaching staff. In last year’s C-USA first-round match against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she won the clinching match to send North Texas to the second round.

“You can see a sense of urgency in our captain, Alexis,” Lama said. “This is her last year. She’s the senior and she wants to finish with a bang.”

Despite having only one upperclassmen, all of the girls have shown to be disciplined and focused. Every sprint, serve and drill is done with the intention to get better and improve even though their season endures through late April.

Lama sums up this dedicated approach in one word.

“Professionalism,” Lama said. “They are a group that is very professional in everything they do on and off of the court. Whether it’s training habits, pre and post practice routines, and doing all of that at a high level. The word is professionalism.”

As the fall tournament season begins, the team will usually only take three or four girls to individual tournaments. The more important season, the dual team season, begins in January. This year, the Mean Green have 14 of their 20 team matches at home where they were 8-1 last year.

Tamuna Katubidze. North Texas Athletics

Tamuna Katubidze. North Texas Athletics

Now a sophomore, Maria Kononova will aim to match and exceed what she did last year as the No. 1 seeded player on the team. At the second seed, fellow sophomore Tamuna Kutubidze was able to win 11 of her 14 matches last year, and will need to replicate that performance to help this team be successful.

“Growth and improvement,” Lama said. “That’s what I want to see every single day. If we do that, then ultimately I want a championship from this team.”

Great success over recent years has set the bar high for this year’s group. However, coach Lama feels like those accolades are not far out of reach if the girls continue to progress.

“We want a championship and we want to go to the NCAA [tournament],” Lama said. “That’s the goal, and the process is everyday [we need to have] that determination to improve.”

Featured Image: Junior Alexis Thoma runs to hit the ball in a singles match. Colin Mitchell 

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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