via University of North Texas
DENTON — Trailing 5-1 in the first set against the No. 17 team in the country, North Texas sophomore Minying Liang didn’t give in.
The Mean Green’s (6-11) No. 5 came all the way back to tie the score at 6 and send the match to a tiebreaker. Liang eventually lost her match 7-6(9-7), 6-4 but the way she and the rest of her Mean Green teammates competed Sunday afternoon versus top-20 ranked Kansas (9-4), a month before the conference tournament was more than encouraging to head coach Sujay Lama, despite losing the match 6-1.
“So proud of our team today,” Lama said. “We battled for every single point and that was our goal — to compete and to be willing to suffer for every single point and to enjoy the moment against a really good team.”
“The final score isn’t really indicative of how well we played and how far this team has come,” he added.
From the first serve in doubles until North Texas’ Maria Kononova ended the match on an ace, the Mean Green battled back and forth with the Jayhawks, who have beaten two top-35 ranked teams this season.
In singles at No. 2, sophomore Tamuna Kutubidze convincingly won her second set 6-2 after a stressful first set loss. She stayed attacking and finished the set on back-to-back corner shot winners.
“This is going to give us a lot of confidence,” Lama said. “And to have Maria win her match at the end was fitting. So even though we lost, in some aspect I feel like we won with momentum.”
At No. 1, sophomore Maria Kononova showed why her name will be in the Mean Green record books after this season. The No. 82 ranked player had a come from behind win over Kansas’ No. 74 ranked No. 1, whose only loss this season prior to Sunday came against the No. 36 ranked player.
The win was Kononova’s 14th this season, which ties a program record for single duel match victories. Kononova has now won five matches in a row and 14 of her last 16. She has defeated five ranked opponents this season, which is one more than her total last year.
Kansas was the third top-25 team North Texas has faced this season. They opened the season at No. 5 Oklahoma State. The Mean Green lost the match 7-0.
“Our team is night and day better since we played Oklahoma State,” Lama said. “The freshmen look like sophomores, the sophomores look like juniors. And the great thing is how basically every single match we have gotten better. We are miles ahead of where we were to start the season.”
With just three matches remaining before they host the conference tournament in late April, North Texas has a nearly two-week break before its next match. Lama hopes to use this block of time, something they haven’t had all year, to recover and train for the tournament.
“This is a perfect time for us to train and get better in practice with the goal to peak in the conference tournament,” Lama said. “What we showed today against Kansas is if we peak in the conference tournament we can make a deep run and go for it.”