North Texas Daily

Tennis heads to postseason

Tennis heads to postseason

Tennis heads to postseason
April 15
09:26 2014

Akshay Mirchandani // Staff Writer

Not being the favorite in a conference championship is unfamiliar ground for the Mean Green tennis team, which won three of the past four Sun Belt Conference championships.

That’s what the teams faces, however, going into the Conference USA championships on Wednesday in Norfolk, Va. The team is embracing the under-the-radar approach, though.

“I don’t call it underdogs, as to more of we’re the dark horse,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “I don’t think there’s any team that wants to play us and that’s a good position, because there’s less pressure. The last three or four years in the Sun Belt, we were the No. 1 seed. We were supposed win, and that’s a lot of pressure too.”

The Mean Green (10-10, 3-1) ended the regular season on Saturday with a 4-1 home win over the University of South Alabama and is currently the No. 67 team in the country. Lama said the team will likely enter the tournament as a top-four seed. UNT also had to battle through inexperience and injuries all throughout the year, but like where it stands right now.

“I sense a freshness to the team,” Lama said. “I sense that they are feeling good, they look happy out there, they’ve got that jump on their step and those are all great signs.”

Lama said the toughest teams at the tournament will be Rice University and the University of Tulsa, which finished at No. 20 in the country and defeated the Mean Green twice this season. However, the two times they played was on an indoor court, and sophomore Agustina Valenzuela believes UNT has a chance against them on an outdoor court like at the C-USA championships.

“Indoors there’s no wind and we are not used to playing with no wind,” Valenzuela said. “Here in Denton, it’s windy all the time and the ball goes faster, and it’s different.”

Valenzuela also said that the C-USA championships are going to be tougher than the Sun Belt championships that the team is used to playing, but said that the team can still do well.

“Last year it wasn’t easy to win it, but this year I feel that there are like three other schools that are good and it’s going to be very hard for us to beat them,” Valenzuela said. “But we can do it, for sure.”

Since the team’s two oldest players, juniors Kseniya Bardabush and Franziska Sprinkmeyer, were out due to injury near the start of the season, the younger players were left to learn on the fly as they tried to replicate the talent of the juniors. However, Alexis Thoma, one of three freshmen on the team, said the injuries helped the underclassmen gain experience.

“That was extremely tough,” Thoma said. “Not having your two oldest players on the court is hard and makes for a very young team. But I think with them absent it made us, the underclassmen, stronger and so we were ready for them to come back.”

Despite all the adversity the team has faced this season, Lama said that this team has positioned themselves to make a run in the tournament.

“A lot of tournament play is about who gets hot at the right time and how do you deal with pressure,” Lama said. “And then I think it’s just a belief that you can do it. I think having this culture now that there’s expectations, these kids believe in themselves.”

Feature photo:  Sophomore Agustina Valenzuela follows through a backhand during the game against South Alabama on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer 

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