North Texas Begins Fall Season At RC Invite
Young Team Looks To Start The Year Strong
Along with the sophomore duo, five other Mean Green women will compete in what will be the first tournament of the year for an eight member North Texas team that is made up of four sophomores and three freshmen.
“I always enjoy early road trips because it’s a time to have fun and bond,” said Mean Green head coach Sujay Lama. “But most importantly, this tournament gives us an idea of where the team is and what they need to do in their game and development. You can’t really simulate tournament play in practice.”
This time last year, then-freshmen Kononova and Kutubidze were just looking to get their feet wet at the colligate level, but they immediately showed signs of success by reaching the semifinals of the RC Invitational.
The two proceeded to win the doubles draw at the Wild West Open Shootout II and defeated Rice’s No. 48 Emily Smith and Katherine Ip, 6-3, in the 2016 Conference-USA Tournament. Together, the pair won 20 doubles matches in the fall and spring combined.
“Last year they showed flashes of brilliances,” Lama said. “When they play their best they can beat anyone in the country. I think they are a team that has a chance to be nationally ranked and playing in the national championship.”
As for this year’s North Texas freshmen, all three will participate in the RC Invitational. Ivana Babić will play in the singles bracket. Babić, who was ranked No. 5 in Croatia for U-18, has drawn an opening match against the tournament’s No. 3 seed, Katelyn Jackson of Texas Tech. Fellow North Texas freshman Alex Heczey opens the tournament against New Mexico senior Rachana Bhat. Heczey has been paired with the Mean Green’s lone senior Alexis Thoma in doubles.
North Texas’ final freshman, Haruka Sasaki, has been placed as a No. 12 seed in the singles bracket versus Abilene Christian’s Whitney Williams. Sasaki and sophomore Laura Arciniegas will team-up as a pair in doubles and have drawn an opening match with Williams and Wildcat teammate Erin Walker. Kononova and Kutubidze defeated Walker and her ACU teammate 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year’s RC Invitational.
“The season is a marathon, not a sprint,” Lama said. “An early tournament like this is all about building an identity.”
Arcinegas compiled six singles victories last fall and advanced through two rounds of last year’s RC Invitational. She has drawn an opening singles match against Nebraska freshman M’Balia Bangoura.
In the singles bracket, Thoma will open against the No. 4 seed, junior Vivienne Kulicke from UTEP. It will be the first meeting between the two Conference USA players.
“We only have five tournaments before our dual-match season begins so we need to take advantage of this,” Lama said. “ This is the beginning of what they signed up for, to be part of something special.”