Dual With Central Arkansas Marks Start Of Tennis Spring Season
North Texas Looks For Balance, Opening Day Win In Denton
Senior Kamilla Galieva led North Texas with nine singles wins in the fall. (Photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON -- Fresh off a weekend tournament that served as an individual warmup for the spring, the North Texas tennis team prepares to host its first dual match of 2016 when Central Arkansas makes the trip to the Lone Star State this weekend. Play is set to begin at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, from the Waranch Tennis Complex.
The Saturday meeting will be the first-ever matchup between the Mean Green and a capable Sugar Bears team. While head coach Sujay Lama is excited for the start of the official season, he knows that the afternoon contest will be a battle for his squad.
"Central Arkansas has a nice, nice team," Lama said. "Just like us, they have talent from all over the world so that means we'll be facing international players that have a lot of experience. College tennis is so competitive that you always have to be physically and mentally prepared to play at a very high level. That's what I expect us to do this weekend."
It's no question that UCA has talent. In fact, two of the team's top players - freshmen Rada Manataweewat and Marli Van Heerden - start the year tied for 114th in the season's first rankings released by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Collectively, the two players combined for a perfect 18-0 singles record in the fall while going 14-3 in doubles play.
For the North Texas coaching staff, the focus heading into Saturday's matchup is less about the skill of the opposition and more about finding a balance in a Mean Green roster that includes so much talent.
Four freshmen newcomers will be a large part of any success the team may find throughout the year, entering the spring after combining for a 21-17 record in head-to-head matches in the fall. Additionally, the freshmen tandem of Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze put together an 8-4 doubles mark. Meanwhile, seniors Anastasiya Shestakova and Kamilla Galieva enter the weekend after collecting eight and nine tournament wins, respectively.
"The biggest challenge I have is figuring out how to reduce the pressure for the younger players while still giving them a chance to shine," Lama said. "That blend is what the coaching staff is consumed with right now. How do we organize a lineup so that we have the perfect mix of experience and youth?
"When we find that balance, I think that's when you'll see our team really start to turn some heads."
While the road to the Conference USA Championships in April is a long one, Saturday's dual in Denton will give Mean Green fans a glimpse of the season to come.