Mean Green tennis starts conference play with long home stand

Mean Green tennis starts conference play with long home stand

Mean Green tennis starts conference play with long home stand
January 30
10:00 2019

The road to a conference championship begins with conference play and the North Texas Mean Green begin that road in February.

The fall season saw a decorated set of tournaments for the Mean Green. Seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze won regional championships and the North Texas doubles teams defeated notable players from large programs such as Texas and Texas Tech.

Head coach Sujay Lama said that he believes the team has what it takes to compete for a championship.

 “There’s the talent, we’ve had the results,” Lama said. “We have to just be blue collar and work. Wake up early in the morning and let’s go, get fired up.”

This season, the Mean Green are currently 2-0 and starting with the upcoming Texas-El Paso match, they’ll play six straight at Waranch Tennis Complex in Denton. 

“It’s really good because they are home matches and the fans are coming out,” junior Alexandra Heczey said. “They just give us so much energy. We like to stay home, play, and protect our home place.”

Senior Tamuna Kutubidze focuses and swivels to backhand the ball at the match against Lamar on Saturday, Jan. 26. Kutubidze held on to her title with two 6-1 set wins against Lamar, maintaining her undefeated singles streak for the spring season. Image by Kara Dry.

With two home wins this season, North Texas has lost one set between the matches.  To start the season, the Mean Green were given home court against Abilene Christian at Lifetime Fitness in Plano, winning 7-0. Then they opened play in Denton with a 6-1 win against Lamar last Saturday. In 2019 so far, the home court match win percentage adds up to a .929, compared to a .286 road match win percentage.

“I think everyone gives a really good effort when we’re home especially,” Heczey said. “We have more time to prepare.”

A sweep of the Denton stretch would give North Texas at least eight wins on the season and help position the team for a possible national tournament appearance in Orlando, Florida this spring. Lama said setting up matches Denton consecutively to was no mistake.

“I believe we can really get on a roll at home,” Lama said. “That’s really what I intended to do when I was doing the scheduling. I just really want to make sure that we get on a roll and enjoy playing in front of the fans.”

Two of the first three home matches in February will be against Conference USA opponents. Last year, North Texas finished 2-3  in conference play and this year they will play seven conference games.

“Of course you’ve got [Old Dominion] at home,” Lama said. “That’s a team that beat us twice last year. We lost a very tough conference match against them at the tournament. You’ve got [Florida International] on the road. They won a championship. Those two teams along with the other ones are all good tests to see where we are and position ourselves for conference play.”

The loss to Old Dominion in the C-USA tournament was the third straight early-exit for the Mean Green on their quest to the conference title. In 2016 and 2017, North Texas lost semifinals matchups, both to Rice.

“Three years in a row we just [exited early],” Kutubidze said. “I don’t want that to happen [again]. Of course, I wanna win conference, but at least I wanna be in finals, fighting for the trophy. It’s gonna be different.”

This will be Kutubidze’s last chance to win a conference championship, as she and fellow seniors Kononova and Mingying Liang will leave the program at the end of this semester. February will also see the three veterans play some of their final games in front of the home crowd.

“I have three seniors,” Lama said. “They’ve meant so much to this program and I just want people around here to really get a chance to see them play. This is their last go-around, so as many matches as possible at home, it’s a dream.”

In March, the Denton match streak will end and the Mean Green will split their final ten contests between home and road. The first four matches of March will be against conference opponents, and winning those could set up North Texas for a 2019 conference championship, though the team has their eyes on the national championship as well.

“[The national championship is] the goal this year,” Lama said. “It’s been a few years now that we haven’t gone to that big dance. It’s just a matter of can we get hot, can we get confident, can we believe, so that when we go out there. We just go out there with the mentality that we are gonna be unstoppable. And if somebody stops us, it’s because they played their best tennis, but we’re not gonna stop ourselves.” 

The North Texas Mean Green tennis team is slated to begin NCAA conference play on February 2 against Texas- El Paso. 

Featured Image: After a doubles win with her partner Minying Liang, senior Maria Kononova struggles to maintain her streak against Lamar on Saturday, Jan. 26,2019. Kononova carried the only singles loss at the Mean Green’s first home tournament of the spring season. Image by: Kara Dry. 

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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