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In the midst of a tough schedule, North Texas tennis determined to improve


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Growth and toughness.

Those two words embody what North Texas head tennis coach Sujay Lama wants to see from his team as their season winds down. In what’s been a challenging 2017 campaign — facing seven Power Five conference teams in 12 matches with players fighting through injuries — this young group has benefited from squaring off with some of the better teams in college tennis.

The youngest squad in Conference USA, seven of North Texas’ eight players are either freshmen or sophomores.  In five matches decided by one point, the Mean Green are only 1-4, with three of the losses coming against Power Five schools.

And despite their 5-7 record, North Texas is determined to not let close losses keep them down. Even though they have had a slew of tough competition to start the season, players on the team are embracing the challenge of facing quality opponents.

“When you lose the matches like that you learn something new,” sophomore Tamuna Kutubidze said. “I think it’s much better to lose those kind of matches than win easy matches.”

Lama concurs, and said the bigger picture is more important than their record.

“I hate losing,” Lama said. “Nobody likes to lose, but that’s why you have the big picture. What’s the big picture? It’s what happens at the end out there, giving ourselves a chance to win the conference championship, play in the postseason. That’s what it’s all about.”

Unlike some other sports, all 14 tennis teams in C-USA are granted entry into the conference tournament regardless of their dual season record. Season records only determine seeding, with the top two seeds receiving a first-round bye.

In order to put his team in the best position to win a conference title in April, Lama said he must challenge his players with a formidable slate of matches in the months prior to the conference tournament. That way once they’re in the tournament, they’ll be ready for the best C-USA has to offer.

But things won’t get much easier in conference play.

C-USA is home to five top-125 athletes and plenty of other quality competition. Fortunately for the Mean Green, one of the conference’s best players resides on their own roster.

In her second year at North Texas as the team’s No. 1 player, No. 82 nationally ranked Maria Kononova has been the main beneficiary of this intense schedule. Kononova has already faced five players who currently hold a ranking in the top-125 spots in the nation and has more in the weeks ahead.

She has claimed victories over two top-80 opponents so far this season.

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