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Women's tennis: UNT rolls into C-USA semis with win over Old Dominion

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

Alexis Thoma was in position to be the hero in North Texas' opening-round match in the Conference USA tournament Thursday.

A missed shot here and a mistake or two there left Thoma standing with the rest of her teammates hoping and praying that Minying Liang would come through in the clutch.

Thoma made sure she wouldn't be a spectator again with the Mean Green's quarterfinal against Old Dominion on the line Friday. She closed the deal herself by winning her match at No. 3 singles 6-3, 6-3 over Natalya Malenko.

Thoma's win clinched the fifth-seeded Mean Green's commanding 4-0 victory over the Monarchs, the fourth seed, at the Waranch Tennis Complex.

"I have always been the type of player that no matter what happens the day before -- if it was a great day or bad day -- as soon as it's over, it's over," Thoma said.

That approach allowed Thoma to regroup and pull through for the Mean Green. Her shot down the line on match point sent UNT to Saturday's semifinals, where the Mean Green will face top-seeded Rice at noon.

"I had no idea I was going to clinch it," Thoma said. "I don't look at the score, but it is a great feeling to be a senior and clinch it."

It sure beat the feeling Thoma had following the UNT's opening-round match, where she failed to put away Middle Tennessee's Lidia Burrows after a commanding win in the first set. She fell 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

Liang made sure UNT would advance by winning the decisive match against MTSU.

Thoma rebounded Friday by taking command of her match and cruising to the finish.

"She had a chance to close and wanted it too bad," UNT coach Sujay Lama said. "Today she was more in control of her emotions. I am happy it was her who came through because it will give her confidence for [Saturday's] match."

UNT will roll into its semifinal after winning four straight matches. Extending that streak will be a challenge against the Owls. Rice is the four-time defending C-USA champion and has knocked the Mean Green out in the semifinals of the tournament in two of the last three seasons.

"It doesn't matter what happened in the past," said Maria Kononova, UNT's top player. "We have to treat it like another match."

UNT feels a lot better about the way it is playing heading into that match after cruising by ODU. The Mean Green won the doubles point and were in command.

Kononova won her match at No. 1 singles 6-2, 6-2 over Holly Hutchinson before Laura Arciniegas won at No. 6 singles 6-4, 6-4 over Marijana Novakovic. 

Thoma took care of the rest.

"I felt way better than yesterday and was more confident," Kononova said. "That happened with everyone on the team after having a tough battle in the first round. We were determined to win faster, get more rest and not have as much drama."

Thoma prevented any drama from developing while cruising to her match-clinching win.

UNT will look to carry the momentum Thoma's win provided into Saturday's semifinals against a familiar opponent that has given the Mean Green trouble in the past.

Lama stood on the bleachers following the match and appealed to UNT's fans to come back Saturday, when he said the Mean Green would give it everything they have in an effort to move a step closer to winning their first C-USA tournament title.

"We have a lot of respect for Rice, but also have a lot of confidence in who we are and the work we have put in," Lama said. "We are looking forward to it. The two hottest teams are Rice and us. It's going to be a great match."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

No. 5 North Texas 4, No. 4 Old Dominion 0

Singles

1. Maria Kononova (UNT) def. Holly Hutchinson 6-2, 6-2 

2. Tamuna Kutubidze (UNT) vs. Ingrid Vojcinakova 1-6, 4-5, unfinished 

3. Alexis Thoma (UNT) def. Natalya Malenko 6-3, 6-3 

4. Alexandra Heczey (UNT) vs. Eliska Petrackova 6-1, 3-6, 0-1, unfinished 

5. Minying Liang (UNT) vs. Nataliia Vlasova 6-1, 1-6, 5-2, unfinished 

6. Laura Arciniegas (UNT) def. Marijana Novakovic 6-4, 6-4

Doubles

1. Kutubidze/Kononova (UNT) def. Vojcinakova/Hutchinson 6-4 

2. Novakovic/Vlasova (ODU) def. Ivana Babic/Heczey 6-2 

3. Liang/Thoma (UNT) def. Malenko/Adriana Rajkovic 6-4