Article Originally Published by Caleb Akpan on North Texas Daily
Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily
The North Texas tennis team (11-10, 4-3 Conference USA) concluded its 2018-19 regular season on Thursday with a loss against Southern Methodist. Despite the loss, the Mean Green finished with their first regular season above .500 in three years.
“Lots of ups and downs,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “We continued to grow along the way. We knew that we were playing a very tough schedule. The good news is that we’re trending on the right path heading into conference.”
North Texas played in the ITA Regional Championships and a variety of invitational tournaments during the fall 2018 season. While wins in those matches did not affect the team’s regular season record, they placed a benchmark on the talent the team had.
Seniors Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze won the ITA Doubles Regionals during the fall, inspiring the rest of the Mean Green heading into the spring.
“That was for sure a big moment not just for them, but for the whole team,” junior Ivana Babic said. “Knowing that your teammates won the regional is huge.”
Kononova and Kutubidze continued to lead the team dfuring the spring season. The duo lost just one match in doubles this year. Kononova was also named the Conference USA Athlete of the Week on April 10 for her play in doubles and singles.
“You’ve got two incredible seniors in Tamuna and Maria that, day-in and day-out, they bring excellence,” Lama said. “I think everybody else, they’re always measuring themselves to those two seniors. It’s a great luxury to have two of the best players in the country in Denton.”
The Mean Green were never more than four matches above .500 during the spring. Their longest win streak was in February when the team won three straight matches to start the month.
“I would love to have even a better record than what we have,” Lama said. “I feel like the lessons we have learned from some of the tough losses will also come to use going to conference.”
One of those tough losses was to a ranked Old Dominion team on March 8. North Texas played the No. 24 team in the nation on that day and the two teams dueled right to the end.
“I definitely do regret the ODU match,” Babic said. “We lost 4-3 in the end. They are ranked and that win would’ve meant a lot to us. Still 4-3 is a close match and I think we do have [a chance with] them if we play in the conference tournament.”
Old Dominion wasn’t the only tough loss during the season. Every missed opportunity was tough on the team but Lama feels that they have been made stronger by the tests they’ve been given.
“They’ve stayed together,” Lama said. “When we lost some tough matches there was no finger pointing, there were no excuses. They came back to work after a devastating loss against UTSA, which was probably one of the toughest losses we’ve had in years here.”
The Texas-San Antonio match was another 4-3 loss. The Mean Green rebounded by winning their next two matches following the loss.
“A championship-minded team — they come back,” Lama said. “They get knocked down and they get up right back. I think that’s been the big motto here, this team has been resilient.”
Resilience has created multiple positive moments for the team throughout the season to contrast the tough losses. The team has stepped up to beat accomplished programs and also win in difficult situations, according to Lama.
“That weekend that we played Kansas State and Arizona,” Lama said. “I thought that was back-to-back two really, really great matches that we played. A couple of these last few wins on the road in tough environments, in UT-Arlington and then pulling that victory over Memphis, I think that really stands out in this season.”
Lama and his players credit the team’s comradery for helping them have one of their best seasons in years. The team sticking together both on and off the court has created a significant chemistry boost in matches, according to Kutubidze.
“We didn’t have that last year,” Kutubidze said. “You could feel it on the court too. I think we trust each other more this year.”
That trust will be a key factor in the Mean Green’s season continuing far past Thursday’s match against Southern Methodist. The team knows they have to stick together in order to have a chance at a conference title.
“Every team is tired, every team is working hard, every team wants it,” Babic said. “I think we just need to stay together, as Coach Lama says, “Stay engaged,” still have the same goal, and the most important thing is that we give our best on the court.”
Thursday’s match was also the team’s Senior Day. Kononva, Kutubidze and fellow senior Minying Liang were recognized for the accomplishments they’ve achieved in their four years with the program before and after playing their final matches at Waranch Tennis Complex.
“I just wanna enjoy playing,” Kutubidze said. “I don’t want to think about winning or losing. I just want to enjoy playing.”
UP NEXT: The Mean Green will travel to Houston on April 18 for the C-USA Championships.
Featured Image: After defeat in doubles play, the Mean Greens huddles up before seeking redemption in singles at the Waranch Tennis Complex on Feb. 15, 2019. Image by: Kara Dry.
Source: North Texas Daily