Tennis team hoping for success in Thursday’s conference tournament

Tennis team hoping for success in Thursday’s conference tournament

Senior Anastasiya Shestakova serves the ball. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

Tennis team hoping for success in Thursday’s conference tournament
April 20
12:57 2016

Courtney Anderson | Staff Writer

@CPaigeA23

The North Texas tennis team finished its regular season last weekend, improving its overall record to 11-9. As a result, the women earned the third seed in the Conference USA tournament, one seed behind Florida International University and Rice University from having a first round bye.

The tournament is set to begin this Thursday, and first on the Mean Green’s radar is the University of Alabama at Birmingham (7-14), the last seed in the tournament. Although this is North Texas’ first time to encounter UAB this season, senior Anastasiya Shestakova remembers defeating the team last season and expects to perform well against the Blazers again.

After hearing countless times from head coach Sujay Lama to “protect their home,” the women did exactly that to close out the regular season. The Mean Green finished the season undefeated in Denton – something Lama wanted to take away from this season, in addition to staying healthy going into the post-season.

“I feel like we are peaking at the right time and we have got the momentum behind us,” Lama said. “Everything you do in regular season is about accomplishing something special to win the conference championship. You win, you move forward. You lose, you’re out and no one wants to be out.”

Lama said he’s finally more than satisfied in the lineup and does not believe there will be any changes before the tournament begins. He said he’s impressed with the seniors who have had a great run this season and the freshman who have improved throughout season in their first year of college tennis.

Freshman Tamuna Kutubidze swings at the ball. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

Freshman Tamuna Kutubidze swings at the ball. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

The upcoming tournament holds a special importance to the three seniors, Shestakova, Agustina Valenzuela and Kamilla Galieva, who will be finishing their career out with North Texas. Instead of fixating on winning a championship, the women are concentrating on what is right in front of them.

“I think it is important not to focus on the end of the tournament,” Shestakova said. “We have to focus on our current match that we’re playing and not worry about what’s down the road.”

The team is still young with four freshman and one junior returning next season, including freshman Maria Kononova. She has been a key component in the doubles play with her partner, freshman Tamuna Kutubidze, finishing 7-3 this season together. But despite UAB coming into the tournament as the lowest possible seed, Kononova said she isn’t overlooking them.

“I’ve never met UAB, so it doesn’t matter to us what they’re doing right now,” Kononova said. “We just have to go out there and play our game, that’s it.”

Although the women are more focused on one game at a time, Lama is waiting for the day they get to take home the C-USA championship. He said the conference is talented and anything can happen, but he does not fear their opponents. Instead, he respects them.

“We’re playing this tournament to win, not just get a deep run,” Lama said. “I told the ladies before practice all we have to do is focus on being the best that we can be at every position, and if we can do that I feel like we’ve got a shot at any team [in this tournament]. I truly believe that this team is capable of bringing this trophy home.”

Middle Tennessee University will host the four-day tournament in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Mean Green will compete in the first round of the C-USA tournament against UAB at 12 p.m. on Thursday. The winner will move on to the Quarterfinals, which will take place at 2 p.m. on Friday.

“This is our March Madness,” Lama said. “It’s April Madness.”

Featured Image: Senior Anastasiya Shestakova serves the ball. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

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