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Players buy into coach’s unique approach


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Barbora Vykydalova wasn’t quite sure of what to make of Sujay Lama and his unique approach to the mental side of tennis when she first arrived at North Texas four years ago.

Lama preaches about the importance of focusing and being mentally tough, just like most coaches do in any sport.

What makes Lama different is that he puts more emphasis on that aspect of the sport with some ideas that Vykydalova — and several other players on the team — thought were a little unusual at first.

Lama emphasizes creating a family atmosphere, focusing on the little things instead of winning and losing and — perhaps most unusual of all — transferring energy from one player to another during matches.

“When I first came here, I wondered what he was talking about with transference of energy, but when someone on the next court says, ‘Go Barby,’ or, ‘Let’s go green,’ it helps.”

Ask UNT’s players, and they will say it’s Lama — part tennis coach, part psychologist — who has transformed them into masters of performing in clutch situations, a trait that has helped them advance to the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last four years.

UNT (18-5) will face rival TCU at 9 a.m. today in an opening-round match of the four-team regional at Texas A&M.

UNT’s path to that regional and a No. 60 ranking in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll is full of points at which the impact of Lama’s strategy is evident.

Vykydalova came back from a set down to beat Tereza Brichacova 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the decisive match in UNT’s upset win over No. 41 Minnesota in January. Less than a month later, Agustina Valenzuela beat Susan McRann 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 in the final match in UNT’s 4-3 win over No. 30 Arizona.

Kseniya Bardabush also came through in a do-or-die singles match, coming back from 5-2 down in the third set to beat Christiana Raymond at No. 1 singles 6-4, 2-6, 7-6. Bardabush’s win gave the Mean Green a 4-3 victory over Miami (Ohio).

UNT is 5-0 in matches that have been decided by a 4-3 score this season.

Performing consistently in key situations has been a hallmark of UNT’s program dating to 2010, when the Mean Green came back from a 3-0 deficit and won its first Sun Belt title with a win over Florida International. Catalina Cruz was down 5-1 in the third-set tiebreaker of the decisive match before coming back to win 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7). That victory helped start UNT’s run of success under Lama and establish the Mean Green’s history of coming through in key spots.

So, just what is UNT’s secret?

Read more: http://www.dentonrc.com/sports/colleges/north-texas-headlines/20130511-unt-tennis-players-buy-into-coachs-unique-approach.ece

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