The Mean Green tennis team is traveling to Waco on Feb. 12 to play their fourth match of the year against Baylor University. The team has had a difficult schedule so far, but head coach Sujay Lama says that the team is excited about the challenge that is approaching.
“These are the kind of matches that you get pumped and excited for,” Lama said. “We have a group that really likes the challenge. They want the best matches that they can get, and they want to be pushed.”
Baylor is a storied program, having been to the final four at the national tournament in 2011. This year, the Bears are currently ranked No. 20 in the nation with a 6-1 record, with their only loss being against No. 3 University of Texas-Austin. North Texas, meanwhile, is 1-2 on the season with losses to Texas Christian University and Texas as well.
Despite the disparity in records, looking closely at both of the team’s matches against the Longhorns paints an interesting story. Both were swept without taking a win. However, when comparing singles results, the Mean Green were able to capture three sets against UT while Baylor only won two. In addition, Baylor has already played seven matches this season, while the Mean Green has only played three, meaning the true potential of the North Texas team is still relatively unknown.
In preparation for the match, players work on all sorts of skills that are usually specific to their own play. While the team practices together all of the time, players tend to work on what they were unable to fit into team practice individually. For instance, sophomore Sophie Hummel is working on her serve, which has been giving her a bit of trouble lately.
“I’ve been having some issues the past couple of weeks with my serve,” Hummel said. “This week I’ll be focusing on getting my serve back so that I can start the point off strong.”
For sophomore Kexuan Zhao, conditioning has been her focus.
“Coach Lama thinks I need to work more on my endurance because I always have the long rallies and matches,” Zhao said. “That’s part of what I’ll be working on this week.”
In addition to putting in the work on the court, Lama says watching tape is a crucial part of their planning.
“We have a video session every Friday,” Lama said. “Sometimes we get videos of other players and teams, but sometimes we look at the matches we just played.”
The head coach is always looking for specific quirks and talents that the team can exploit or avoid.
“We’re looking for patterns,” Lama said. “Where are their strengths, weaknesses, what they like to do, and what might be something they didn’t like.”
Hummel says analyzing the tape of her previous matches lets her find out more about her game that she needs to work on.
“Us doing match analysis lets us see what exactly we need to work on for the upcoming matches,” Hummel said.
After losing against two tough teams this season in UT and TCU, the players are looking forward to another challenge against another ranked team.
After defeating Sam Houston State University last week, the tennis squad knows they have the capability to defeat Baylor. They also know no matter where Baylor may rank nationally, their own lack of ranking does not accurately reflect where their actual skill level currently stands.
“I mean Baylor is obviously a very strong team but as we’ve shown for the past two weeks, we are right there with them,” Hummel said. “UT and TCU were very close matches, so I think we all saw that we’re right there and that we’re not scared of them.”
Lama echoed these sentiments and he knows that this current team does not doubt their ability to win.
“In the past, we had players who did not buy into beating strong teams,” Lama said. “They looked at the name of the jerseys across the net. Now our kids are saying ‘Hey, all we have control of is our end. We need to give ourselves a chance and to believe.”‘
Courtesy North Texas Tennis