North Texas Daily

Tennis concludes conference schedule as tournament nears

Tennis concludes conference schedule as tournament nears

Tennis concludes conference schedule as tournament nears
March 28
12:43 2019

North Texas tennis (9-7, 4-2 Conference USA) will play its final C-USA match of the regular season on March 31 against Texas-San Antonio (10-10). The Mean Green currently have a record above .500 in conference, setting themselves up for a potential run at the conference tournament in Houston next month.

“I think we’re in the best position of all the four years [I’ve been here],” senior Tamuna Kutubidze said. “If everybody keeps working hard and doing the same thing to improve for the conference tournament, I think we’re gonna do really well.”

North Texas went 2-4 in their previous two seasons of regular season conference play. Kutubidze feels that the roster has improved confidence in themselves this year compared to the past.

“I feel like as a team and individually, the way everyone is performing is way better than all the other four years,” Kutubidze said. “The main thing is that we have more belief in ourselves and in each other.”

The Mean Green have matched their regular season conference match win total from the last two seasons with an additional match to go. Their seven matches against C-USA opponents are the most any team in the conference will play before seeing teams in the tournament.

In comparison to North Texas, a team like Rice will only play one regular-season conference match before the C-USA tournament. Playing many matches against potential future opponents was a conscious choice for head coach Sujay Lama and his staff.

“The more looks you get, you [realize] this is what they’ve got and this is where we stand and this is what we need to do or the other adjustments we have to make,” Lama said. “It also tells us where we might be. Absolutely it’s a huge bonus.”

A win on Sunday would give the Mean Green five conference wins in the regular season, a total that would potentially match Florida International’s conference record as they are currently 4-0 in the conference with a game to go. One of those four wins was a 4-0 match against the Mean Green in Miami.

“I want to play FIU and Rice,” Kutubidze said. “When we played FIU last time we didn’t have [Maria] and we played there. I feel like it was not the day to play them, everything outside of the tennis court was just so disruptive.”

Florida International is one of a few teams that members of the North Texas roster would like to get another chance to play in the tournament. They’re aware that the tournament could pair them with unexpected matchups.

“We lost to Rice twice and we lost to Old Dominion,” senior Maria Kononova said. “You kind of want to rematch them in the finals or on a bigger stage but it doesn’t really matter to me. We have to beat not only them but there are different teams in our conference too. You never know who’s gonna perform the best.”

This will be the final conference tournament for Kononova, Kutubidze and senior Minying Liang. The team has not made it to the final day of play in their first three C-USA tournaments.

“You always thought, ‘Oh yeah I have one more chance, one more chance’,” Kononova said. “This year is our last chance so I think the main thing is not to put extra pressure and just go over there and play and see how it goes.”

The C-USA tournament will take place in Houston from April 18-21. It will take four wins in four days for the Mean Green to claim the title of champions unless they are seeded as a top two seed and given a bye on the tournament’s first day.

“You can think of winning a championship but it’s still day-by-day,” Kononova said. “You have four matches and it doesn’t matter if you think of a championship but you don’t do your best or do well on the first day. You look at the big picture but you still have to maintain your focus on the small things.”

The big picture for North Texas this season seems to be getting their decorated senior roster their first conference championship. There’s a definite pressure for the team and a big opportunity for them to do something great for the program.

“There’s always pressure,” Lama said. “I think it’s more a motivation for them to do even better. I see it as an opportunity. The great Billie Jean King said, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’  For [this team] it’s a privilege to be in that position to try to win a championship.”

Featured Image: After defeat in doubles play, the Mean Greens huddles up before seeking redemption in singles. Despite their efforts, the Mean Green lost 4-3 to Old Dominion University on March 8, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry. 

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Caleb Akpan

Caleb Akpan

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