Tennis Season Ends With 4-1 Semifinal Loss To Rice
Freshman Kutubidze Highlights Day With Two Ranked Wins
Tamu Kutubidze took wins over ranked opponents in doubles and singles on Saturday. (Photo by Andy Heidt)
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Facing off against a perennial contender for the Conference USA title, the North Texas tennis team could never gain momentum as the Mean Green fell, 4-1, at the hands of the Rice Owls on Saturday in the league tournament’s semifinal round.
North Texas came away with just two wins on the day - one in doubles and one in singles - before the 2016 season came to an end for head coach Sujay Lama’s squad. The Mean Green finish with a season record of 13-10 while Rice improves to 12-9 in dual play.
“We played a very experienced team with four freshmen in our lineup,” Lama said. “At the end of the day, they had been here before and had the experience on their side. It wasn’t a lack of fight or effort on our part. Obviously we’re disappointed because we thought we had the ability to win a championship, but we’ve grown this year and will continue to do so.”
The highlight of the Mean Green’s day came from freshman Tamuna Kutubidze, who picked up a pair of wins over ranked Rice opponents. The first of those came with the help of classmate Maria Kononova at the top doubles spot. Facing off against Emily Smith and Katherine Ip, the No. 48 doubles duo in the nation, the Mean Green tandem used a 6-3 score to claim the only North Texas doubles win of the day.
In singles, Kutubidze carried over her winning momentum en route to her eighth consecutive individual win. In a battle with No. 92 Katherine Ip, the Mean Green player pieced together a convincing 6-4, 6-1 victory on Court 2. She finishes the year with a 13-4 dual mark in singles, including an 11-3 record at the No. 2.
“Nothing surprises me about Tamuna anymore,” Lama said. “She is an absolutely powerful, mature player and has evolved at a rate not typical of a freshman. She has weapons and firepower, and she’s figured out how to use those things. Tamuna’s going to have one heck of a career.”
Seniors Anastasiya Shestakova and Agustina Valenzuela each played in their final matches for North Texas on Saturday. On Court 3, Shestakova was on pace for a victory against Emily Smith before her match went unfinished with a 7-6(4), 5-4 score. Meanwhile, battling on Court 4, Valenzuela fell 6-1, 2-6, 6-0 to Savannah Durkin in her final match. Shestakova and Valenzuela finish with a 12-7 and 13-8 dual record on the year, respectively.
The Mean Green now head into the offseason after what has surely been a year of growth for a young team. North Texas will return five of its eight current members and four of the six players that were in the singles lineup to finish the season.
“We knew that this was a year where we had to mix some things up,” Lama concluded. “We had a lot of freshmen and had to discover ourselves. We had to find our identity. What I’m so proud about is that they clearly had to dig in and find who they are, and by the end I think we did that. These seniors saved us. They led by example and work ethic, and I think the young ones followed suit. I’m really looking forward to next year and the future because we have a core group that is determined, hungry and wants to do well.
“We will continue the trend that we had this year. I’m proud of the way we evolved and I expect big things in the years to come.”
1. Kononova/Kutubidze def. #48 Smith/Ip, 6-3
2. Liang/Valenzuela fall to Hodge/Ho, 6-2
3. Thoma/Shestakova fall to Durkin/Zinko, 6-1
1. Maria Kononova falls to Lindsey Hodge; 7-5, 6-3
2. Tamuna Kutubidze def. #92 Katherine Ip; 6-4, 6-1
3. Anastasiya Shestakova vs. Emily Smith; 7-6(4), 5-4 (unfinished)
4. Agustina Valenzuela falls to Savannah Durkin; 6-1, 2-6, 6-0
5. Minying Liang falls to Alison Ho; 6-2, 6-3
6. Laura Arciniegas vs. Solomiya Zinko; 4-6, 2-5 (unfinished)