North Texas Daily

Tennis team returns from fall campaign with fresh start in mind

Tennis team returns from fall campaign with fresh start in mind

January 21
02:17 2016

Torie Mosley | Staff Writer


The North Texas spring 2016 tennis season has begun, and the Mean Green return from last season as a fresh team with an international recruiting class taking up half of the eight roster spots.

Freshmen Laura Arciniegas (Colombia), Maria Kononova (Russia), Tamuna Kutubidze (Georgia) and Minying Liang (China) all return from the fall season in preparation for the official spring dual schedule from January to May.

Arciniegas finished with a 6-6 singles record and 1-2 doubles record in fall play. The Colombian reached a personal best World Tennis Association ranking of 723 in her home country and ranked No. 1 in the Colombia U-16 rankings. She also holds the No. 1 U-18 Colombia ranking.

“Our freshmen have been really impressive since arriving here and getting used to the school and program,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “They still make little mistakes that younger players make, but they’ve worked on cutting those mistakes down during the fall workouts and matches.”

Kononova compiled a 7-6 singles record and 8-4 doubles mark in fall play. At 5’10, the Russian native is the tallest player on the squad and is one of the best doubles players for the Mean Green. Kononova often teams up with Kutubidze, winning the doubles draw with Kutubidze at the Wild West Open Shootout II tournament in November.

Senior Kamilla Galieva works on her groundstroke during practice Wednesday afternoon. Meagan Sullivan | Visuals Editor

Senior Kamilla Galieva works on her groundstroke during practice Wednesday afternoon. Meagan Sullivan | Visuals Editor

Kononova has won five Russian National titles in her pre-collegiate career and has already proven herself as one of North Texas tennis’ biggest threats on the court.

“Maria is a special player,” Lama said. “She has the ability to make every play from any part of the court and continues to improve her game. She’s going to be a great one.”

Kononova said she feels great about her previous accomplishments but knows she needs to keep focusing on improvement.

“I’ve learned a lot the last couple years, especially [at North Texas],” Kononova said. “We have a really good team capable of playing against anyone in the conference.”

Kutubidze recorded an 8-5 singles record and 8-4 doubles mark in the fall. The Georgia native is currently the No. 1 U-18 ranked player in her Eastern European country.

To cap off the recruiting class, Liang ranked No. 203 in the International Tennis Federation. She ranked No. 2 in the China U-16 rankings and is currently No. 12 in China U-18 rankings.

Junior Alexis Thoma, the team’s only American player, was 7-5 in singles and 6-4 in doubles matches in fall play. Thoma won the Red Doubles draw at the Oklahoma Invitational alongside senior partner Kamilla Galieva.

Thoma said she has enjoyed working with the freshmen as they prepare for their first spring season together, and she feels excited about the Mean Green’s chances in Conference USA.

“The freshmen have had tremendous progress since they joined the team,” Thoma said. “It’s been a night-and-day difference in their game. They don’t even act like freshmen anymore, on or off the court.”

Filling out the rest of the roster spots are the Mean Green’s three senior players: Kamilla Galieva (Russia), Anastasiya Shestakova (Crimea) and Agustina Valenzuela (Chile).

Thoma’s partner, Galieva, had a 9-3 singles record and 7-2 in doubles in the fall. The senior won the Flight B final at the Midland Collegiate Invitational in September and ranked No. 113 nationally in singles last year.

Shestakova went 7-4 in singles and 3-6 in doubles in the fall while winning the Flight B singles championship at the Wild West Shootout II tournament. The Crimean native is the team’s reigning MVP and was selected as an all-conference second team singles player spring of 2015, when she went undefeated (3-0) in conference play.

“Our seniors are great leaders for our younger players to follow and compete with,” Lama said. “They’ve helped them get used to the school and playing on this level of competition.”

Last but not least, Valenzuela had a 7-5 singles and 3-6 doubles record in fall play. The Chilean native was No. 1 in U-18 Chilean rankings in 2010 and won the Chile Junior Open in 2011 before playing the last three years for the Mean Green. The senior enters this season after winning her last three matches last spring.

With the spring season underway, the Mean Green collected eight wins last weekend in Orlando, Florida at the UCF Invitational. The team comes home Saturday at noon to host Central Arkansas University at the Waranch Tennis Complex.

Thoma said every match matters as much as the next match, but the matches against rival schools within the D-FW region mean the most.

“We want to beat everybody we play against, but going against TCU and UTA will be very important matches,” Thoma said. “I personally know a few people on those teams. But when we step on the court, we’re not friends at all and want to beat them as much as they want to beat us.”

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