North Texas Daily

Sun Belt series part VII: Mean Green tennis

Sun Belt series part VII: Mean Green tennis

April 10
22:25 2013

Caitlyn Alvarado / Staff Writer

Although the Mean Green tennis team will be saying goodbye to the Sun Belt Conference after this season, a number of SBC competitors will transfer to Conference USA with UNT.

Florida International University, Western Kentucky University and Middle Tennessee State University are the three other current SBC members that will make the transfer to C-USA next year. Head coach Sujay Lama said he is excited for the new conference.

“It’s a little bit more prestige,” Lama said. “It’s a little bit better known conference. We got two American kids to sign with us, and that would not have happened if we were not moving into C-USA.”

The Mean Green lost eight straight matches to FIU to begin its tenure in the Sun Belt before defeating the Panthers in the 2010 SBC tournament finals. Since then, UNT has a 3-2 record against FIU.

Similarly, MTSU defeated the Mean Green in its first four Sun Belt matches, but UNT has claimed victory in the last seven. The teams will meet up again this Saturday.

“When I came into the Sun Belt we were dead last in the conference,” Lama said. “So I saw it as an opportunity to pass them and I think that’s why I do a good job. I like challenges.”

The SBC gave the team many memories. Senior Valentina Starkova said her fondest memory was capturing a win over Denver’s Caroline Schnell – a player that defeated her the month before – in the SBC championships, helping the Mean Green on its way to its second title in three years.

“We were in the semifinals and my match went long,” Starkova said. “It was 3-3 and I was down 3-1 in the third set, and somehow I won the match. Everyone ran to my side. I was crying and they were crying and coach was crying. I will always remember that.”

Starkova will graduate at the end of the spring semester, so she will not be a part of the transfer to C-USA, but she said she wants to remind her teammates that it won’t be easy.

“They are going to have stronger opponents, and next year’s tennis team is going to get a lot better just by playing in the C-USA,” Starkova said. “The team just has to go there with the mindset that the competition will be tougher, there will not be any easy matches.”

Senior team captain Barbora Vykydalova said she advises her team not to focus on the schools it will play.

“Don’t look at the big school names,” Vykydalova said. “Enjoy every moment of this new conference because senior year will come by too fast.”

For Vykydalova, this chapter will soon be over. To Lama, the next chapter is just another challenge.

“My mentality is to climb up the mountain and eventually be a conference champion,” Lama said. “I would like to be the first one to do it, but we will see.”

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