North Texas Daily

Tennis team finds positive outlook after season ends in C-USA Semifinals

Tennis team finds positive outlook after season ends in C-USA Semifinals

April 28
03:56 2016

Courtney Anderson | Staff Writer

@CPaigeA23

After dominating the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the first round 4-1 and sweeping Louisiana Tech University in the second round 4-0, the Mean Green could not keep up momentum in the third round.

In their first ever appearance at the Conference USA tournament semifinals in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the women of the No. 71 North Texas tennis team could not overcome No. 45 Rice University, now four-time C-USA champions.

“We played good overall in the tournament,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “The ladies gave everything they had and we had momentum at one point against Rice, but couldn’t capitalize on it.”

The only Mean Green point during Saturday’s 4-1 loss came from freshman Tamuna Kutubidze in her singles match against Rice’s Katherine Ip. Kutubidze also won her doubles point with freshman Maria Kononova 6-3, but overall the women failed to earn the point after falling in the other two matches.

Overall, the youth and inexperience of the team got the best of them. Four of the team’s eight players were freshmen, including freshman Minying Liang, who was the first to finish her singles play, losing 6-2, 6-3. Senior Augustina Valenzuela was the only one to make it to three sets before ultimately falling to Rice’s Savannah Durkin.

Senior Agustina Valenzuela runs to tap the ball over the net in a singles match. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior Agustina Valenzuela runs to tap the ball over the net in a singles match. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

But despite the loss, Kutubidze said her win against Ip is her most memorable moment of the season.

“She beat me badly back in January,” Kutubidze said, referencing a 6-2, 6-1 defeat at the UCF Invitational. “I was looking for revenge against her and got it.”

The three seniors leaving North Texas tennis this year are Anastasiya Shestakova, Kamilla Galieva, and Valenzuela. Galieva was named Co-Player of the Week for the week of Feb. 16 after defeating No. 36 Oklahoma, while Shestakova went undefeated in singles play for nearly an entire month spanning over March and April.

Shestakova’s most cherished moment this season, unlike Kutubidze, was not during the C-USA Tournament.

“The match back on senior day when we beat [the University of Texas at Arlington] was my favorite,” Shestakova said. “All the energy we had and the atmosphere of playing at home was really awesome for the last time.”

Lama said it’s going to be hard to replace the three seniors leaving this year, but that it’s always exciting to find great, high-level players. So far, two of the three scholarships available have been filled by players from Los Angeles and Hungary.

Although the majority of the team is international, Lama said it doesn’t matter to him if the third scholarship player comes from the United States or a different country.

“It doesn’t make a difference to me,” Lama said. “I’m looking for the best available player out there. But I’m excited to get next season’s team finalized.”

Stepping up as the only senior next year will be junior Alexis Thoma. She, along with the three current seniors, has earned a spot on the C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll because she maintained at least a 3.0 GPA throughout the year.

Senior Anastasiya Shestakova follows the ball with her eye after a serve. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Senior Anastasiya Shestakova follows the ball with her eye after a serve. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

With the four returning freshmen, Lama is expecting Kutubidze to step up as a leader for the other girls and new teammates.

“Alexis is who I’m obviously looking at to step up,” Lama said. “But [Kutubidze] has matured and grown so much in college tennis since coming here, and I think she’s become a real role model for some of the girls already.”

North Texas finishes out the year ranked No. 68 in the latest ITA Tennis poll. The Mean Green will also host next year’s C-USA tournament at home in Denton.

The goal for North Texas,  Kutubidze said, is to maintain the success they experienced this season and take advantage of hosting next year’s conference tournament.

“There’s still parts in my game that I want to improve, and I’ll be working on that this semester,” Kutubidze said. “Next year I want to always finish strong and play as well as I did this year, or get better.”

Featured Image: Junior Alexis Thoma runs and hit the ball in a singles match. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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