Tennis Records Second Shutout In Quarterfinal Win Over LA Tech
Upperclassmen Shine As North Texas Advances In C-USA Tournament
MURFREESBORO, Tennessee — “Two down, two to go.”
Those were the words of a fiery Sujay Lama after his North Texas team earned a 4-0 win against Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Tournament’s quarterfinal round on Friday.
With the win, North Texas picks up its second sweep of the season and improves to 13-9, while the Lady Techsters end their year with a 15-7 mark.
The action began with another hard-fought, down-to-the-wire finish in the team portion of the day. Both squads split quick finishes to start - junior Alexis Thoma and senior Anastasiya Shestakova knocked off Taly Merker and Manoela Chiacchio, 6-1, while the No. 2 duo of freshman Minying Liang and Agustina Valenzuela fell, 6-2.
But - as has been the case time and time again - freshmen Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze stepped up. In a fierce contest with LA Tech’s Alexandra Starkova and Zoe Chen, the Mean Green rookies battled back from a 5-4 deficit to force a tiebreaker and steal the win, 7-6(4).
“Winning the doubles point was absolutely huge,” Lama said. “Tamuna and Maria played phenomenal tennis to come back, and that tiebreaker really set the tone for singles. LA Tech was ready to battle, but I think the loss in doubles took the wind out of their sails.”
With a 1-0 lead entering the individual portion of the afternoon, the North Texas upperclassmen showed the type of leadership you would expect from veterans with their season on the line. In fact, all three of the Mean Green’s singles wins came from the squad’s non-freshmen.
The first of that group was Valenzuela. In what could've been the final match in her career, the senior Valenzuela finished things off with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Zoe Chen on Court 4. On Court 3, Shestakova handled Marta Sramkova to the tune of a 6-2, 6-4 decision to put the Mean Green up, 3-0.
The closer of the day was Thoma. Originally out of the lineup, the junior filled in at the No. 6 spot after adjustments were made to the Mean Green’s singles players. She made the most of her opportunity while knocking off Manoela Chiacchio 6-4, 6-4 to clinch the match for North Texas.
“It was upperclassmen day,” Lama said with a smirk. “Our girls capitalized on the momentum we had established and took huge leads. The rest of the team followed, and I’m really proud that they fought hard and gave it all they had.”
With the win, North Texas is set for a rematch of its C-USA semifinal contest in 2013-14, a loss at the hands of Rice. Even so, Lama and his retooled Mean Green roster are prepared for what’s next.
“We’ve fought hard for this,” Lama added. “Our preparation has been on conference all year and now we get the opportunity to play in the semifinals with a chance to move on to the finals. We know that we’ll be playing a very tough opponent tomorrow but our focus will be on ourselves and being the best we can be, just as it always is.
“I’ve told these girls all season to trust the preparation, believe in this team and go for it.”
North Texas will be back on the courts at 12 p.m. for Saturday’s semifinal matchup, where the Mean Green will battle (2)Rice for a spot in the C-USA Championship.
1. Kononova/Kutubidze def. Starkova/Chen, 7-6(1)
2. Liang/Valenzuela fall to Sramkova/Britos, 6-2
3. Thoma/Shestakova def. Merker/Chiacchio, 6-1
1. Maria Kononova vs. Alexandra Starkova; 7-6(1), 4-5 (unfinished)
2. Tamuna Kutubidze vs. Jazmin Britos; 3-6, 4-5 (unfinished)
3. Anastasiya Shestakova def. Marta Sramkova; 6-2, 6-4
4. Agustina Valenzuela def. Zoe Chen; 6-4, 6-2
5. Laura Arciniegas vs. Alba Escalona Perny; 6-4, 4-5 (unfinished)
6. Alexis Thoma def. Manoela Chiacchio; 6-4, 6-4