Mean Green Tennis' Season Ends In C-USA Semifinals
North Texas Loses 5-0 To No.1 Seed Rice
April 22, 2017
DENTON -- The North Texas tennis team's season came to an end Saturday.
The Mean Green lost 5-0 to the top-seeded and No. 37 nationally ranked Rice Owls in the semifinal round of the Conference USA Championship.
North Texas, the host school and No. 5 seed in the 14-team tournament, ends the season winning five of its last six and featuring a young core that has already left its name in the program's record book.
Saturday just wasn't their day.
"By the time we kind of had gotten caught up it was a little too late," said head coach Sujay Lama. "We got off to a few slow starts but I'm proud of the way we fought in the end, especially at the bottom of the lineup. But it just was one of those days."
On a cold and windy day, the Mean Green's (11-12) slow start began in doubles where their No. 1 doubles team lost for the first time all year. Sophomores Tamuna Kutubidze and Maria Kononova fell 6-2 to the Owls' (16-5) No. 1 team, which is ranked No. 90 in the country. Kutubidze and Kononova end the season with a 17-1 record. Their .944 winning percentage and 17 wins are both program records for a single season.
Kutubidze and Kononova's loss in doubles clinched the doubles point for the four-time defending C-USA champ Owls. North Texas also lost 6-2 at No. 2. They were leading 4-3 at No. 3 when the point was claimed.
The doubles point loss ends a streak of four consecutive matches that the Mean Green had won the doubles point.
"We put ourselves in a hole to start and against a team like Rice you can't do that," Lama said.
In singles, the No. 76 ranked Kononova lost 6-4, 6-2 at the No. 1 spot to No. 110 Lindsey Hodge. Kononova ends the season with an 18-5 record. Her 18 wins are a program record for a single spring season while her .782 winning percentage falls .006 percent shy of the record.
Kononova, who was named C-USA Women's Tennis Athlete of the Week three times this year, ends the season with a 5-3 record versus top 125 opponents. Her victory over the No. 16 ranked player on February 10 at Oklahoma is the highest ranked opponent a North Texas tennis player has ever beaten.
At No. 3, the Mean Green's lone senior Alexis Thoma ends her career with 27 dual singles victories at North Texas. Her nine wins this season were a personal best. They all came at the No.3 spot. Saturday was the third time in four year Thoma had ended her season to Rice. Her match against Wendy Zhang went unfinished on Saturday.
"She's led this team all year and helped a young team grow," Lama said. "This was by far her best season. She grew as a person and player."
On the backend of Saturday's lineup, freshman Alexandra Heczey lost her match at No. 4 in straight sets. Heczey ends the season with nine singles wins. Furthermore, she and fellow freshman Ivana Babic showed this year to be a promising pair at the No. 2 position in doubles. Heczey and Babic beat two ranked teams this season. That's two more than Kononova and Kutubidze beat.
The only Mean Green player to win a first set Saturday was sophomore Minying Liang. She began her match with a 6-4 win. Her match would go unfinished and she ends the season winning eight of her last 10.
"Minying was outstanding this year," Lama said. "She became so tough and I'm so proud of her."
Liang ends the season with 10 wins, twice as many as she had all of last year.
At No. 6, sophomore Laura Arciniegas fell 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday. After missing a month of the season Arciniegas became a steady player in a important position. She clinched the win over UT-Arlington in comeback fashion and won six more matches this year than last.
Freshman Haruka Sasaki hadn't been in North Texas' lineup for the final six matches but was a constant contributor in singles and doubles prior. Sasaki collected wins at the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 position this season.
As a team, North Texas combined to win 67 singles matches, which ties last seasons total. But its .523 winning percentage this season is the highest it's been since 2013 when they won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
In doubles, North Texas put together a 32-25 record. The 32 wins and .561 winning percentage are the most since joining C-USA.
The Mean Green ended the season winning five of its last six, which was a season best. Three of those five wins came against SMU, UTA and Old Dominion, three teams that had given North Texas fits prior to this season.
"This season was all about growth," Lama said. "We have a young core that's come a long way since we started, both on and off the court. But we still have room to grow."
1. #90 Lindsey Hodge/Wendy Zhang (RICE) def. Maria Kononova/Tamuna Kutubidze (NT) 6-2
2. Priya Niezgoda/Alison Ho (RICE) def. Alexandra Heczey/Ivana Babic (NT) 6-2
3. Katherine Ip/Savannah Durkin (RICE) vs. Alexis Thoma/Minying Liang (NT) 3-4, unfinished
1. #110 Lindsey Hodge (RICE) def. #76 Maria Kononova (NT) 6-4, 6-2
2. Katherine Ip (RICE) def. Tamuna Kutubidze (NT) 6-1, 6-1
3. Wendy Zhang (RICE) vs. Alexis Thoma (NT) 6-2, 5-2, unfinished
4. Fernanda Astete (RICE) def. Alexandra Heczey (NT) 6-1, 6-4
5. Savannah Durkin (RICE) vs. Minying Liang (NT) 4-6, 4-1, unfinished
6. Alison Ho (RICE) def. Laura Arciniegas (NT) 6-1, 6-3