The Mean Green tennis squad has faced a lot of adversity so far this season. With an understaffed roster and a schedule riddled with talented opponents, the team currently sits at 4-9 on the season. However, their record within Conference USA still sits at an even 1-1, making the next stretch of games against conference rivals Louisiana Tech University and the University of Texas at San Antonio all the more pivotal to the future of the season.
“LA Tech and UTSA are important matches for us, from the standpoint of the conference,” Head coach Sujay Lama said. “We want to position ourselves as best as we can as far as seeding is concerned.”
North Texas will take on the Bulldogs (6-8, 1-3 C-USA) first on Friday. On paper, it looks like Lousiana Tech may have the better record but their schedule reveals a recent loss to Missouri State University, a team the Mean Green beat 4-0 last Saturday.
Senior Nidhi Surapaneni knows what to expect, as she has played and beaten the same opponent every time the team has faced off against Lousiana Tech the past two years.
“I think I’m going to go back and look at a few recordings we have,” Surapaneni said. “I kind of know her game off the top of my head. Obviously, she’s going to try to come in hot, not wanting to lose to me again.”
The second match will be against a UTSA (6-7, C-USA 0-1) team still seeking its first victory against a conference opponent. The Roadrunners are in a better place overall than North Texas and their only conference loss came against Rice University (10-2, C-USA 2-0) who also swept North Texas when they last played on March 18.
For junior Maria Ponomareva, preparation is all about adjusting within the match. She believes that as long as she can focus on her opponents from the beginning and not lose focus, it will work out.
“In these matches, I will just try to focus from the beginning and try to finish every shot,” Ponomareva said. “The most important thing for me is to focus on how I’m playing.”
In order to prepare for the matches, Lama scheduled another match against Midwestern State University for Tuesday, believing that match play is the best kind of practice.
“At this time of the season it’s a lot better to play a match than to practice,” Lama said. “I believe it’ll help us fine-tune and work on the things we want to work on.
While it is important for the team to try their best to know their opponent, Lama admits that sometimes they do not have the time to scout the opponent as thoroughly as they would like. However, the most important thing to the team is doing the most they can with the time they do have.
“A lot of times, we are more focused on us,” Lama said. “It does help to have scouting reports and videos on matches from last year, but mainly our focus is on our play, what we could do what we could have done better.”
Lama notes it is difficult to see where North Texas stands right now nationally, he says that beating these two schools will give an advantage to the team when the tournament rolls around.
“The higher the seed we can be, the less of a chance that we come across the top two seeds in the second round,” Lama said. “It does give you a chance to play the lower seeds in the earlier rounds.”
Even though these matches matter for the seeding, Surapaneni believes they do not feel as crucial as it might seem. In the end, it is what happens in the conference tournament that matters.
“In 2018, my sophomore year […] we played [Florida International] in the regular season and we lost 1-4,” Surapaneni said. “However, when we played them in the conference we won 4-3. It kind of gives you the idea of how the players are going to be.”
Although the first half season has not gone as well as Lama and his team had envisioned, Ponomareva believes the team is ready for the upcoming challenge.
“As a team, we’re just going to keep practicing our strokes, keep practicing our mindset as well and hopefully we can come out strong against our conference opponents,” Ponomareva said.
Featured Image: Senior captain Nidhi Surapaneni hits the ball during practice on Feb. 21, 2021. Image by Zach Del Bello