Moving In Right Direction
North Texas Loses 4-3 At SMU But Proud Of Team's Fight
DALLAS — The North Texas tennis team is building momentum headed into the final match of the regular season and the Conference USA Tournament next week.
Albeit in a 4-3 losing effort at SMU on Thursday, the Mean Green won the doubles point by saving two match points, making a 5-1 comeback at No. 1 and eventually winning the doubles point and then playing with an energy and passion in singles that head coach Sujay Lama was proud of.
“We played free and aggressive,” Lama said. “I’m very proud of our team. For everything we’ve been through this season to play as hard as we did today was great to see. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Thursday’s match came down to Minying Liang and Alexandra Heczey at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. Both Liang and Heczey lost their first sets by narrow margins and were forced to play from behind. They both ended up losing in the second set, clinching the match for the Mustangs (13-8).
“If we can win the first set on those courts I think it’s a different match but SMU played very well,” Lama said. “When we made our move they withstood our aggression and held us off.”
The North Texas (7-13) aggression was led by its captain Maria Kononova. The nation’s No. 57 ranked player dominated at SMU.
Along with fueling the 5-1 comeback in doubles, Kononova made quick work in singles, winning 7-5, 6-1 to claim her 34th career singles victory and moving the junior into third-place on the Mean Green’s all-time singles victory list.
The fearless Kononova forced her opponent to run around the court by laying down perfect drop shots and scorching cross-shots that her opponent had no shot at. Kononova also returned tough high velocity serves and kept the pressure on her opponent.
As the momentum began to weight heavily on her side, Kononova’s energy become more vocal.
Kononova’s power play and energy carried over to the five other courts as the team battled with Mustangs on the road.
“Maria is special,” Lama said. “She’s got the hunger. When she’s got that spirit the whole team feeds off it.”
Right after picking up the win at No. 1 singles, Mean Green sophomore Haruka Sasaki stepped on the gas at No. 6. After a critical 6-4 first-set victory, Sasaki began to build confidence and worked her opponent into tough situations. Sasaki won the second-set 6-1 and gave UNT an overall 3-2 lead on the Mustangs.
Heczey nearly forced a third-set after dropping the first-set in a 7-4 tiebreaker but a couple missed shots gave SMU the point and the soon after the match.
North Texas hosts its final match of the regular season. The Mean Green will play UT-Arlington on Saturday at noon. The match will also be the team’s community day game. Fans are encouraged to attend, as there will be free food, autographs and a free kids clinic at 11:00 a.m. as well as a free adult clinic after the match.
- #57 Maria Kononova (NT) def. Liza Buss (SMU) 7-5, 6-1
- Karina Traxler (SMU) def. Tamuna Kutubidze (UNT) 6-2, 6-3
- A. Shapovalova (SMU) def. Minying Liang (NT) 7-5, 6-4
- Ana Perez-Lopez (SMU) def. Alexandra Heczey (NT) 7-6, 7-5
- S. Monarrez Yesaki (SMU) def. Nidhi Surapaneni (NT) 6-1, 6-2
- Haruka Sasaki (NT) def. Nicole Petchey (SMU) 6-4, 6-1
- Maria Kononova/Minying Liang (UNT) def. Karina Traxler/S. Monarrez Yesaki (SMU) 7-6 (7-3)
- A. Shapovalova/Tiffany Hollebeck (SMU) def. Alexandra Heczey/Nidhi Surapaneni (UNT) 6-3
- Tamuna Kutubidze/Haruka Sasaki (UNT) def. Nicole Petchey/Ana Perez-Lopez (SMU) 7-6 (7-5)