Mean Green tennis after a (2-0) start, looks to expand on a combined 13-1 score on their first two opponents leading into a matchup against Lamar on Saturday, Jan. 25.
North Texas’ first two matches of the season began on their home turf where the Mean Green defeated Stephen F. Austin 7-0 Jan. 17 and New Mexico State 6-1 Jan. 19. Head coach Sujay Lama believes getting off to a 2-0 start and having a four-game homestretch to start the year helps build confidence in the long haul.
“This kind of setting is good for building confidence,” Lama said. “We have five new players this season and these early games were a test to see how the team could connect. For the younger players, it’s their first time getting the feel for dual matches and they’ve done a good job of making the adjustment.”
In their first win against Stephen F. Austin, all singles and doubles matchups were a sweep in favor of North Texas. Junior Nidhi Surapaneni, sophomore Maria Ponomareva and freshman Kexuan Zhou all won their matches in consecutive sets. The win over New Mexico State saw senior Alexandra Heczey win in two sets with a (6-0, 6-4) singles victory, including Zhou winning her matches (6-0, 6-3).
The second match against New Mexico State included a two-set sweep for Heczey winning both matchups (6-0, 6-4) to eventually teaming up with freshman Hala Khaled Badwy for a 6-3 victory over New Mexico State. North Texas won five of the six singles matches and swept all three sets against New Mexico State in the doubles with a combined (19-13) match record.
“Our first two games we’ve come out with good energy and cheering on our teammates,” Heczey said. “Some other things I’ve noticed we did well is paying attention to details and coming together as a team. It’s helped us out with a smooth start to the season.”
Senior co-captain Haruka Sasaki commits to leading by example on and off the court for a team with four freshmen in light of maximizing their full potential in their first games at the collegiate level. As someone who’s been a part of dual matches in her four years on the team, Sasaki coaches the younger players on how to prepare and teach the dynamics of how dual sets work.
“[Heczey] and I try to simplify the game for the younger players that are playing their first dual matches,” Sasaki said. “This season we’ve done a good job at getting a good start on both sides of matches and building our confidence.”
Lamar (0-1) comes off a 7-0 loss to Rice from Jan. 19 in their only match for the 2020 spring. The Cardinals are led by 20-year head coach David Wong, who is the program’s winningest coach in school history. Dating back to 1995, North Texas has a 10-1 record against Lamar. Under Lama’s tenure as head coach since 2006, the Mean Green are 6-0 against the Cardinals. Both coaches have competed against each other and have become close.
“Their team is very feisty and competitive,” Lama said. “I’ve known [Wong] for a long time and have a lot of respect for him. They always go out and give a good fight and won’t give us any free points.”
The Cardinals returned six players from last year’s team, including three seniors Jasmin Buchta, Sanja Jolic and Bianca Vitale. With an overall record of 8-14 in 2019, Lamar seeks revenge after a 5-2 loss to North Texas last spring.
In the 2019 singles matches, Surapaneni defeated Sanja Jolic (6-1, 6-1), while Heczey won in a (6-2, 6-0) route against Amelie Vossgaetter. During the doubles matches, the duo of Heczey/Babic won (5-2) over Molina/Vitale. The other doubles pair, including Kutubidze/Sasaki, defeated Sanja Jolic/Laura Sola (6-4).
North Texas currently rides a nine-game winning streak over Lamar since Feb. 1999 and has gone (50-16) in matches since then against the Cardinals. The last win for Lamar over North Texas was in Feb. 1998 with an 8-1 win for the Cardinals.
“Even with our good start, everyone has a good attitude and practices have been amazing because they’ve bought in,” Lama said. “Overall it’s a positive feeling around us because when you win games, it makes you feel good about yourself and motivates yourself to work harder.”
North Texas will host Lamar in a noon matchup Saturday, Jan. 26.
Featured Image: Senior Haruka Sasaki returns serve from Mean Green teammate Nidhi Surapaneni in practice on Jan. 24, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas