Tennis advances to Conference USA semifinals for second straight year

Cesar Valdes | Staff Writer

North Texas advanced to meet the Rice Owls in the C-USA semifinal tournament for the second consecutive year.

The Mean Green had an impressive 4-0 win over Old Dominion University in the quarterfinals, gaining a significant edge over the Monarchs after a hard-fought win over Middle Tennessee State yesterday.

For the second straight tournament match, North Texas clinched the doubles point. They were led by the pairings of Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze along with Alexis Thoma and Minying Liang.

Kononova and Kutubidze’s 6-4 victory marked the 17th straight doubles win for the duo and adds to their school record.

After having a slow start in both singles and doubles the previous day, Kononova came out with a more aggressive approach. Her 6-2, 6-2 win over nationally ranked No. 106 Holly Hutchinson was her 18th win of the spring season.

“I felt way better than yesterday,” Kononova said. “The long match points help to find your shots and I was more confident. [We] had a tough battle in the first round and the second one we were more determined and wanted to win faster to get ourselves more rest and not have that type of drama anymore.”

Sophomore Laura Arciniegas was next to get on the board. Despite losing in straight sets against MTSU, head coach Sujay Lama trusted the experienced native-Colombian to bounce back. She rewarded her head coach with a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over the Monarchs’ Marijana Novakovic.

“She’s won those big matches against UTA and SMU,” Lama said. “The fact that she’s a sophomore – she’s been in this situation. She’s played two matches in last year’s conference, so the experience was a key difference.”

Senior captain Alexis Thoma’s 6-3, 6-3 match ended the Monarchs’ season and sent them packing back to Virginia.

“That’s just how we play,” Thoma said. “It wasn’t our most outstanding, best performance. That was just us on an average day.”

Rice has won the last four C-USA titles. For the Mean Green to put an end to their reign, it’s going to take more than their average game. Rice enters the semifinal bout ranked No. 37 in the nation and is riding a seven-match win streak.

“We have a lot of respect for Rice, but also we have a lot of confidence in who we are this year and the kind of work we’ve put. It’s at home and we’re looking forward to it and I know these kids are going to give everything they have.”

Regardless of last year’s 4-1 loss to Rice in the semifinals, Mean Green standout sophomore Kononova doesn’t worry about what happened last season. Her focus is on the group of players they have this year and tomorrow’s showdown.

“Right now it’s a different match, different story, it doesn’t matter what happened about the past,” Kononova said. “We just have to care [of] our future.”

Next up: North Texas faces Rice at the Waranch Tennis Complex at 12 p.m. tomorrow.

Mean Green quick hits:

  • North Texas is 5-0 in the month of April.
  • Kononova andKutubidze are a perfect 17-0 in doubles.
  • No. 76 Kononova won her 18th singles match of the season.
  • Liang has won the last five of six finished singles matches.
  • Under Lama’s guidance, North Texas is 1-4 against Rice.
  • Rice’s Lindsey Hodge ranks No. 110 in the nation. Rice’s duo of Lindsey Hodge and Wendy Zhang rank No. 90 among doubles teams.
  • Lindsey Hodge defeated Kononova in last year’s semifinals.
  • Kutubidze and Kononova defeated Rice’s No. 48 ranked doubles team in Katherine Ip and Emily Smith.

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