Cesar Valdes | Staff Writer
As her opponent’s shot made its way into the waiting outstretched net, a sense of relief could be seen in sophomore Minying Liang’s face as her teammates and coaches rushed over to celebrate her season-saving victory.
Liang had undergone a three-hour tennis marathon to earn her 4-6, 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) victory against Middle Tennessee State University’s Marta Peris Herrero. During her match, Liang had her shoulder evaluated by the training staff – the same shoulder that nagged her throughout the regular season.
“I don’t really think much about the pressure actually,” Liang said. “I just keep telling myself to keep playing my game and just ignore all the external factors. Coach Lama kept telling me how hard I’ve been working and now it’s time to pay off, so I just kind of forgot all about the pressures.”
Going into the match, it seemed like it was going to be a cakewalk for the Mean Green. North Texas entered the Conference USA tournament as the No. 3 seed at home playing with a three-match win streak and taking on the No. 12 seed MTSU, who ended the regular season with a 10-14 record.
Head coach Sujay Lama, on the other hand, knew they were going to be in for a battle.
“Hats off to Middle Tennessee,” Lama said. “They came to play. I told our kids nothing is going to be handed to us. It’s been the same way all year long, but the difference here is that we’ve lost those four key matches early on in the year. I think it’s really helped our resolve. We’ve learned our lessons.”
During the regular season, North Texas had its fair share of heartbreaks. The Mean Green finished the year with a 1-6 record in matches decided by one point.
But it was a different story for North Texas against MTSU.
Liang was the only one who dug herself out of a early hole. Fellow sophomore Maria Kononova dropped her first set and fell behind early in the second. However, after dishing out a couple of great serves, Kononova came back to win the second set in a tiebreak and closed out the third set 6-1.
Sophomore Tamuna Kutubidze struck first in singles after the Mean Green won the doubles point. In her 6-3, 6-2 rout of Costanza Magazzani, Kutubidze displayed her devastating forehand strike, and most important, proved that her lack of mobility is not an issue.
“No ankle pain anymore,” Kutubidze said jokingly. “I was kind of nervous at the beginning, but I know myself. I just needed some time to get used to the point playing. I think I did a good job.”
Despite the near upset, Lama is glad his team was on the ropes for the majority of the match.
“I think this is going to help us,” Lama said. “Sometimes you need a match like that to get you going. This is a wake up call for the kids. I think we’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”
Next up: North Texas takes on the winner of the University of Alabama at Birmingham vs. Old Dominion University at 2 p.m. Friday.