TNS: Coach Lama Gives Back To Nepali Community - Project Nepal
Simply put, Sujay Lama has put North Texas tennis on the map.
Now at the conclusion of his 10th season with the Mean Green in 2015-16, Lama has established a winning tradition at North Texas, having led the Mean Green to three conference championships in the last seven years.
Lama is the program’s winningest coach with a 128-111 record, bringing his career mark to 236-185. He has mentored eight student-athletes to 16 all-conference honors in the combined Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA leagues.
Under his guidance, the Mean Green has reached the semifinals or finals in each of the last eight seasons while competing in the Sun Belt Conference and the C-USA Championships.
The Mean Green’s success has not been limited to the court, either, as North Texas has picked up ITA All-Academic team honors for nine consecutive seasons.
Leading The Mean Green In the 2016 season, Lama brought in and developed one of the top freshman classes to come through North Texas. By the year's end, each of four Mean Green newcomers were playing in one of the six singles positions. The team would finish with a 13-10 mark while once again making it to the C-USA’s semifinal round. Most notably among the Mean Green rookies, freshmen Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze earned spots on the First Team All-C-USA singles squad while also taking first team doubles honors. Senior Anastasiya Shestakova made it on the second team roster, her third consecutive all-conference accolade.
In 2015, the Mean Green earned four all-conference honors after reaching the Conference USA semifinal round with a 9-14 record. Kseniya Bardabush earned first-team all-conference honors for the fourth time in her career, while Shestakova took a spot on the second team. Bardabush was joined by Franziska Sprinkmeyer in taking a place on the doubles second team.
In 2014, the Mean Green advanced to the semifinal round in its first-ever C-USA Tournament, where they assembled an 11-11 record for the season. Lama coached Bardabush, Shestakova and Sprinkmeyer to all-conference honors.
The Mean Green capped off one of the best seasons in school history in 2013 with a second straight Sun Belt Conference Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. For his efforts, Lama earned his second consecutive Sun Belt Coach of the Year award, and he was also named the 2013 Jim Verdieck College Coach of the Year by the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), an award given by the leading tennis-teaching professional organization in the world.
In 2012, the Mean Green won its second conference championship, defeating Florida International, 4-2, before falling to Nebraska in the NCAA tournament. Lama earned his second coach of the year award, becoming the first North Texas coach to win such an honor multiple times. The 2012 squad produced the program's highest ranking to date - a No. 40 mark from the ITA - before finishing the season at No. 55.
The 2010 season was a breakout year for Lama and the Mean Green. The team captured the program's first Sun Belt Conference championship with a win over No. 49 FIU, while receiving its first-ever national ranking of No. 66. The conference championship earned the team an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament appearance, the first ever in school history, and Lama picked up his first career coach of the year honor. North Texas finished its historic season with a 17-7 record.
In 2009, Lama was named the USPTA Collegiate Coach of the Year for the state of Texas after leading North Texas to a 17-6 record on the year. He was also named a finalist for the prestigious Giant Steps Award, a national recognition presented by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports that recognizes coaches and other individuals who use the power and appeal of sport to positively effect social change and help others succeed.
Lama led North Texas to a 13-9 record in the spring of 2008, which was the best record (by winning percentage) since 1986-87. The preceding semester, he led the program to its best fall season in history. The Mean Green turned the heads of the nation's premier programs, notching individual wins over Ohio State, Kentucky, LSU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech and many others.
It didn't take long for Lama to leave his mark on the North Texas program. In just four seasons, Lama took the Mean Green from last in the Sun Belt to first.
Working mainly with a group of walk-ons during the 2006-07 school year, Lama went 2-19 in his first season with the Mean Green. The team improved to double-digits wins the next season and then advanced to the conference semifinals in 2008-09.
Rebuilding a fallen program is nothing new to Lama.
Before North Texas Prior to becoming North Texas's 10th coach in program history, Lama spent eight years as the women's tennis coach at the University of Illinois.
The Fighting Illini saw significant improvement with Lama at the helm. In his first year, Lama transformed the Illini from 8-13 and ninth in the Big Ten the previous season to a squad that was ranked No. 10 in the region and No. 75 in the nation.
The Illini continued to see significant improvement during each of Lama's eight seasons. In 2003-04 the Illini went 17-6, posting their best winning percentage since Illinois's first team went 6-0 in 1975. Lama's 2003-04 squad also earned the highest national ranking in program history at No. 16. In 2003, the Orange and Blue knocked off top-ranked Duke, 4-3, at the UI Atkins Tennis Center.
Lama's teams reached a number of milestones during his time in Champaign-Urbana. The Illini won their first NCAA Tournament match in May 2001. The program also had their first Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the Rookie of the Year in the Midwest Region, 10 All-Big Ten players, four Big Ten Medal of Honor players, 13 ITA Scholar-Athletes and two Academic All-Americans. UI's women's tennis players earned Academic All-Big Ten recognition 39 times under Lama.
Overall, Illinois was 108-84 with a Big Ten record of 60-34 during Lama’s time there. He produced squads that made five NCAA team tournament appearances as well as five NCAA individual tournament appearances.
Before his stint at Illinois, Lama served as the top assistant under then-Florida coach Andy Brandi from 1995-98, helping the Gators win two NCAA titles, three SEC crowns and post three undefeated dual match seasons. Lama was honored for his contributions as the 1997 ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year in the South Region.
Prior to Florida, Lama was the Senior Staff Professional at the Van Der Meer Tennis Center in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where he worked with the elite player development program for touring pros and top junior players from 1992-95.
He was a traveling coach on the WTA tour for several players including two top twenty ranked Amanda Coetzer (South Africa) and Naoko Sawamatsu (Japan). Lama has coached at 12 grand slam events including Wimbledon, U.S Open, Australian Open and French Open.
Collegiate Career As a player, Lama was the top-ranked player in Nepal from 1989-91 and reached No. 50 in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior world singles rankings. He represented his country in several international tournaments, including the Asian Games in Beijing, China, in 1990.
The Nepal native attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, from 1988-92 and was a two-time Volvo Collegiate All-American in singles (1991-92). He also earned Senior Player of the Year honors in the Midwest Region in 1992 and was ranked No. 5 in NCAA Division III singles. Lama dominated the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in four years competing for Luther.
He won the league's singles and doubles titles and took conference MVP honors all four years of his collegiate career, leading his team to four IIAC titles. Lama put together a career singles record of 104-18 and captured two Rolex Midwest Regionals (1989 and 1991), while advancing to the semifinals of the Rolex National Intercollegiate Indoor Championship in 1991. Lama also made three NCAA Tournament appearances. He was inducted into the school's athletic hall of fame in the fall of 2002.
Personal Background Lama earned his bachelor's degree in Public Communications/Political Science from Luther College in 1992, earning GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-America honors during his time there.
A noted teacher and clinician, Lama has worked at tennis camps across the United States, Europe and Asia. He has earned the highest certification level with the USPTR and the USPTA and is a USTA Certified High Performance Coach.
Lama has traveled to more than 50 countries and is fluent in English, German, Hindi and Nepalese. He has lived five or more years on three continents - Asia, Europe and North America.
Recently, Lama has lent his time and expertise to a unique venture called Project Nepal, a non-profit endeavor aimed at educating orphaned and indigent Nepalese children. He has helped raise over $12,000 each year to fund the education of 67 orphanage children in his hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal.
Lama and his wife, Lynn, reside in Denton with their daughter, Priya, and son, Siddhartha.