via University of North Texas
DENTON — North Texas tennis sophomore Minying Liang won a third set tiebreaker to clinch a 4-3 victory over Middle Tennessee in the first round of the Conference USA Tennis Championship Thursday afternoon.
Liang battled back from a 3-5 match point deficit to send it to a tiebreaker, which she won 7-4. North Texas has now won 10 straight conference tournament first round matches. The Mean Green will play in the quarterfinals against the No. 4 seed Old Dominion Monarchs at 2 p.m.
“(Liang) showed tremendous heart today,” said head coach Sujay Lama. “She didn’t fall to the pressure. She stepped up. Our tough schedule all year prepared us for this kind of match, because Middle Tennessee really brought it. My hat goes off to them.”
Liang has now won 8 of her last 10 matches and North Texas is on a four-match winning streak, the longest of the season.
“I was thinking it’s time for me to step up when the team is down,” Liang said. “I have been working hard for this moment and it’s time to pay it off.”
Also making a comeback Thursday in singles was North Texas’ No. 1 Maria Kononova. The sophomore trailed 3-5 in the second set after losing the first set 6-4. Kononova powered her way back to win the second set 7-5 and then cruised in the third set to a 6-1 win. Kononova improves to 17-4 on the year, her .809 winning percentage this season stands as the best in program history for a single season.
Furthermore, Kononova’s victory came at a crucial time in the match. Middle Tennessee had railed at No. 4 to tie the match at two and was starting to pull ahead at No. 3. Kononova’s win gave North Texas a 3-2 lead and held off the Blue Raiders’ momentum. It also set up Liang for the 4-3 clinch.
“We’ve learned to win tight matches with our tough schedule,” Lama said. “I think this is a match we would have lost earlier in the year but now we’re very resilient.”
North Texas had lost three straight 4-3 matches and six this season overall before Thursday’s win. The Mean Green have played five ranked teams and played them closely all year.
Winning the doubles point once again helped the No. 5 seed Mean Green come away with the win. North Texas has won the doubles point 12 times this season. The no. 1 doubles team of Maria Kononova and Tamuna Kutubidze won their 16th straight match to remain undefeated on the season. The sophomores tie the program record for most doubles wins in a single spring dual match season.
Following doubles, North Texas took an early 2-0 lead after a strong showing from Kutubidze who mowed past her opponent at No. 2, 6-3, 6-2. Kutubidze has won four straight singles matches.
“This has given us a lot of energy for Friday,” Lama said. “This kind of close match will bring out our intensity in the quarterfinals.”