Without hesitation, senior Alexis Thoma swatted away any reason to believe she would face another slump to start the year.
Last dual season, the captain from Frisco, Texas wasn’t able to reach a singles victory until early March. Four matches into this season, Thoma found herself in a familiar spot with her only win being a lone doubles victory.
While the start of this season is a bit reminiscent of the previous, Thoma isn’t allowing any negative vibes to fall into her head.
“I’m not worried about what happened last year.” Thoma said.
To start the season, Thoma and the rest of the team have already seen some of the toughest opponents they will face this year.
North Texas began its 2017 campaign on the road against No. 5 Oklahoma State University, who were runner-ups in the 2016 NCAA national championship, and followed that up with another devastating 3-4 defeat to Michigan State University at home. Their latest losses come at the hands of the University of Tulsa, who garnered votes in the Top 25 ITA rankings — and a team North Texas has yet to defeat — and the University of Oklahoma.
Despite their wicked slate of competition, the road to a Conference USA title won’t get any easier from here on out.
The Mean Green are currently in their toughest stretch of the season, facing four Power Five conference teams in the next seven matches. In those contests, they will also face a total of eight players ranked in the top 115 in the nation.
“I would not have scheduled the way I did if I did not think we had a chance to win all of these matches,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “I just know that we are very capable of winning all these matches.”
Thoma says she feels confident in her ability to pick up wins in her next couple of matches and is not feeling any extra pressure.
Fortunately for North Texas, Thoma was able to claim solo victories in back-to-back fashion during this past weekend’s match-ups against Oklahoma and the University of Wisconsin. Thoma’s first win of the year came in the Mean Green’s loss to the Sooners. Against Oklahoma, Thoma overwhelmed freshman Serena Nash, thwarting her in the matches opening sets.
But it was her clutch performance against Wisconsin that stood out the most.
Facing another freshman, Thoma took advantage of her opponents’ shortage of collegiate experience. Near the start of the third set, the Badgers tied the Mean Green at three points all. This meant it was left to Thoma to close out the win, and she delivered.
“She was fighting really hard and [showed] a lot of mental toughness,” freshman Alexandra Heczey said. “That was a tough game for her to have on the season and a big win for us.”
On a relatively young roster, Thoma is the only player on the Mean Green with at least two full seasons on her résumé. Prior to this year, Lama had the luxury of playing Thoma at the four, five, and six spot throughout her career as a result of having more experienced players on the team.
In her three previous seasons, Thoma has only played in a total of three matches at the No. 3 spot.
“I think that starting off playing [No. 2 this season] was a little bit unfamiliar ground for her, but she’s a fighter,” Lama said. “She’s fighting every single match. Now there are times at the top three spots you’re going to get into kids that have big shots, but right now we need her to be playing up in the top three spot to give our younger kids a chance to really develop.”
If Lama has to make a move, he has all the confidence in the world that one of his younger stars can positively contribute to the team.
“The one that’s our dark horse is Minying [Liang],” Lama said. “She’s clearly proven that in practice she’s a top three player. She’s shown me that she’s very hungry to get going.”
Despite Lama’s confidence in his younger players, the Mean Green still need Thoma to bounce back if they are to compete later in the season. Even though she is off to a slow start, Lama is not worried about Thoma’s ability to right the ship.
“If anybody can take a loss and recover and rebound, [Thoma] can,” Lama said. “She has one of the best recoveries I’ve ever seen. She will have a crushing defeat and come for practice the next day like she won that match.”
And much like her coach, Thoma feels as though she can turn things around.
“I feel good going into these games coming up.” Thoma said.
Featured Image: Senior Alexis Thoma poses for a portrait during practice. Kaitlyn St. Clair