The Mean Green tennis team will travel to Los Angeles, California to participate in the Cal State Northridge Invite during the weekend of Nov. 8-10 to close out their fall season.
The team will round out their final tournament playing Cal State Northridge and other west coast schools like Cal State Los Angeles, Cal Riverside, Long Beach State, Brigham Young and Portland. In their last performance at the College Station ITA Texas Regionals from Oct. 20, doubles pair sophomore Maria Ponomareva and junior Nidhi Surapaneni lost 8-5 to Rice. Senior Alexandra Heczey and freshman Hala Khaled Badwy lost to the No. 5 seeded Texas 8-3.
Head coach Sajay Lama was satisfied with the overall 10 singles’ wins in a group effort that same weekend as Surapaneni and freshman Kexuan Zhou both reached the quarterfinals of the singles consolation bracket. Following the last tournament, Lama views the upcoming one as a stepping stone to the players’ development in the fall.
“We want to peek out and see what we’ve got in this last tournament,” Lama said. “Throughout the fall we know we’ve got the pieces to win, and I’ve seen flashes of brilliance in our players. One thing we worked on is to have the killer instinct to close out the tough matches.”
Earlier this fall the Mean Green, in their first tournament against Rice the weekend of Sept. 27, held a combined .555 winning percentage with the debut of four freshmen. The following week the Mean Green competed in the Red & Blue Challenge at Southern Methodist and had six doubles’ wins and four singles’ wins.
The fall season for the Mean Green meant working on new strategies and schemes to work around with a team filled with fresh faces. With the Cal State Northridge tournament coming up, the team expects to execute what they’ve worked on all fall to put into place in the spring.
“In the singles’, we’ve tried the plus-one serve and implemented it in our games this fall,” Surapaneni said. “Also we worked on being consistent and making the open court shots. With the doubles’ we’ve improved on working towards the net and closing the gaps.”
Five freshmen are new to the Mean Green court this year after graduating three seniors in the spring. With Haruka Sasaki and Heczey being the only seniors this season, the two feel like they have an impact on a majority underclassmen team to lead the way.
“There’s a ‘serve’ type mentality that we pass on to each other,” Heczey said. “We do what we can to make sure that we set the right example of how to act. [Underclassmen] do a good job of being flexible and are always willing to learn.”
The tennis team features an all-international roster for the third year in a row dating back to the 2017-18 season. The freshman class includes players from Germany, Egypt, Russia and China. Diversity is something Mean Green tennis embraces and takes pride in.
“Even though we all have different cultures and grew up differently, we still accept each other as teammates and friends,” Sasaki said. “We do a good job of communicating and it’s our number one priority to keep in contact. The underclassmen are already mature enough, but sometimes you have to let them know of the small details to be fixed.”
Los Angeles and the rest of California over the last month faced a crisis of fires that led to thousands of acres being burnt The Mean Green tennis players realize there are games to be played but will admire and be considerate of Cal State Northridge’s hospitality over the weekend.
“I really will appreciate their hospitality at their home court because they’ve gone through a lot recently with the fires,” Sasaki said. “We want to go over there to have fun and play our game, but at the same time we have to also recognize what they had to overcome.”
The tournament could also have an impact on all players’ and teams’ ability to play in an environment that still faces damage and toxins in the air from the nearby fires.
“I’m surprised that the tournament is still being hosted,” Surapenini said. “I have family that is close over in Orange County and I really feel for the people that have been harmed.”
The Mean Green tennis team will finish their fall season with the Cal State Northridge tournament and begin play in the spring on Jan. 10 at the SMU Invitational in Dallas.
Featured Image: Junior Nidhi Surapaneni plays a match during practice on Nov. 5, 2019. Image by Ryan Cantrell