Article Originally Published by Caleb Akpan on North Texas Daily
Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily
The International Tennis Association releases its Division I college tennis rankings every Tuesday during the season. Every DI team is considered and 50 doubles teams are ranked nationally in addition to 125 singles players. In the latest rankings released on April 2, the one-loss North Texas duo of seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze were ranked No. 27 in the nation.
“It’s obviously really good,” Kononova said. “We still have several matches ahead of us so we have to focus on them and play them good so we can at least maintain our spot or even improve it.”
The newest ranking was a 17-spot jump from their previous mark last week. At one point in the season, Kononova and Kutubidze were listed as a top-20 pair in the nation.
“We’ve always believed from day one that they are one of the best teams in the country,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “They actually have a great opportunity to make the NCAA tournament. We’ve always felt like if they can make the tournament they could really make a serious run because that’s how good they are.”
Kutubidze was also ranked No. 114 among singles players in addition to her doubles ranking with Kononova. Even with the accolade, Kutubidze isn’t very worried about her rankings.
“I didn’t even look,” Kutubidze said. “I just don’t really care about it. I’m not really playing for the ranking.”
Kononova is currently not ranked in the singles despite her success in that area during her time with the program setting an all-time wins record. The program still knows they have a pair of excellent players with or without ITA recognition.
“We have the luxury of having two of the best players in the country,” Lama said. “I’ve always felt like without or with the rankings, Maria’s still one of the best players in the country. Tamuna, whether she’s dropped in the rankings or is way up in the rankings, I still feel that she is one of the best players in the country.”
Lama said he knows that his players do pay some attention to the rankings but does not allow them to put their focus on the list too much as he feels “you have no control over the computer.” He mainly wants his players to stick to what they can control: their performance on the court.
“You don’t want to get too caught into it,” Lama said. “You just try to focus on the process, the next match, how to get better. If you get too tied to just the rankings, there’s a lot of variables to the rankings.”
The Mean Green’s rankings have fluctuated throughout the season thanks to those variables. ITA rankings use an equation based on team wins and the level of competition faced to determine a team’s place on the list.
“It’s obviously better when you play ranked opponents and you beat them,” Kononova said. “Since we’re not in the top conference with a lot of ranked teams, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to play them. When we have the chance we have to use it.”
North Texas has played two ranked opponents this season: Old Dominion and Wichita State. Kononova and Kutubidze beat their doubles opponents in both of the matches.
“If you look at the four years that they’ve played here and the kind of doubles players that they are, they are certainly deserving of their rankings,” Lama said. “If not better rankings.”
At 10-9 on the season, the Mean Green are not considered a top 50 team by the ITA formula. Old Dominion is currently the only team from Conference USA listed by the association.
“The computer rankings really don’t always reflect where you should be,” Lama said. “It is what it is, it is the system that we use. We just have to be prepared for the unknown, which is the drop off or getting up in the rankings. What you can control is the next match.”
The Mean Green will face Memphis (11-8) and Southern Methodist (7-11) to close the season. Wins are unlikely to put the team as a whole in the rankings but the Kononova/Kutubidze pair and Kutubidze’s singles ranking could move up with wins.
Featured Image: Senior doubles pair Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze encourage each other during their doubles match against Arizona on Feb. 17, 2019. Image by: Adriance Rhoades.
Source: North Texas Daily