Tennis strides past C-USA tournament loss

Tennis strides past C-USA tournament loss

Tennis strides past C-USA tournament loss
April 22
23:22 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

With a berth in Conference USA semifinals at stake, all Franziska Sprinkmeyer had to do was win her singles match.

After sweeping Louisiana Tech University in the first round of the C-USA championships, North Texas went into the final singles match of the second round on April 17 tied with No. 66 Old Dominion University, 3-3. But Sprinkmeyer was beaten 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (3) to cap off an almost five-hour day. The season was over.

“It was a good 4 1/2 hour match, drama at the highest level,” head coach Sujay Lama said. “That’s what college athletics is all about. That’s why I love to coach.”

Once the Mean Green took a 3-1 lead powered by a trio of victories from the team’s three juniors, it needed just one more point to move on to the next round. However, the matchup was tied after two consecutive wins by the Monarchs in straight sets.

Going into the final match, Sprinkmeyer took it upon herself to bring the team a win.

“I wanted to win for the team to show everybody that we were capable of winning [Conference USA],” Sprinkmeyer said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because of that.”

Although the final outcome was not what it desired, Lama said the team’s confidence and endurance never wavered, which showed a great amount of character.

“At the end of the day, what you have to do beyond the disappointment and the sadness is ask ourselves, ‘Did we give everything we had? Did our players put everything on the line? Did they pull in their heart and soul?’ We did,” Lama said.

After starting the year ranked No. 66 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the Mean Green fell out of the rankings after going 2-6 in the first three weeks of play. The team finished the season with a 9-14 record, its worst total since Lama’s first season with North Texas in 2006-07.

Despite its struggles, junior Agustina Valenzuela said the team went into every game with enormous confidence.

“This season, we were all very focused and concentrated on what we had to do,” Valenzuela said. “But I can still not understand why we did the way that we did this season, because I felt everyone was playing better than before.”

A tough schedule proved to be a burden for North Texas this season — of 20 of its regular season opponents, 10 were nationally ranked. Lama’s squad went 2-8 in those games, and more than half its outcomes this season were decided by two points or fewer, not including the C-USA tournament.

“We were in every single match,” Lama said. “We have to accept the fact that college tennis is a lot of parity now, and we just got to work harder and make those 4-3 losses into 4-2 wins next year.”

Wins and losses aside, the Mean Green played well together throughout the season. Valenzuela said she had never been on a team with this much harmony and solidarity.

“Last year, we were having struggles with the girls. It was more separate. Everyone had their own friends,” Valenzuela said. “This year, we were very close. It was very nice to be part of a team like that.”

With the upcoming departure of seniors Sprinkmeyer and Kseniya Bardabush, North Texas will lose two of its most decorated student athletes. The duo went undefeated as a doubles pair last season but had difficulties against tougher competition this year, finishing with a 10-11 record. Sprinkmeyer was named to the C-USA All-Academic team on April 15 with a 3.94 GPA. Bardabush was named the April 14 C-USA player of the week.

The North Texas roster will feature three seniors next season in Valenzuela, Kamilla Galieva and Anastasiya Shestakova. Each of the three won their singles matches in two sets against Old Dominion. Valenzuela said she is excited for the new recruiting class to arrive, but the upcoming departure of Sprinkmeyer and Bardabush still hasn’t settled in.

“They really taught me how to be one of the leaders this year, so I’m just going to follow what they did because I think they did a very good job,” Valenzuela said.

Lama said it will be hard to replace the experience of Sprinkmeyer and Bardabush, but is looking forward to bringing in what he described as the most talented class that he’s ever recruited next season to try a run at the C-USA title.

“There’s going to be a void, but I think there are players on this team that are ready to step in and fill the void,” Lama said.

Featured image: Sophomore Agustina Valenzuela, front, and freshman Alexis Thoma prepare to square off in a doubles match against the University of Texas at Arlington at the Waranch Complex. File photo by Edward Balusek – Visuals Editor

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