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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Sports

New pieces on tennis team make for perfect fit


The Cougars have gained confidence in themselves, as they have had a solid season despite not bringing back players or coaches from the previous season. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

The Cougars won 20 matches and made it to the AAC Tournament quarterfinals before losing to Wichita State last season. This year, despite hiring a new coach and bringing back only one returning player, the Cougars have not missed a beat.

UH has found a way to make all of the new pieces work as it moves on to its second good season in a row.

Head coach Helena Besovic deserves much of the credit for this year’s success. From the beginning, Besovic focused on creating a team culture that emphasized making the players comfortable. This was not an easy task with six new players, many of whom came from different countries.

“The main goal for us has been to keep growing as a team,” Besovic said. “This is a whole new team. With the coaching staff and the players, a lot of freshmen, transfers.”

With basically a completely new roster, however, Besovic was able to create a culture the players have bought into. After an accomplished career as a player at TCU and on the ITF Women’s Circuit, it seems Besovic developed a knack for coaching.

Her first opportunity was when she became the interim coach at the University of Missouri. She was an assistant for two years prior, but she still led the team to an appearance in the Big 12 Championships.

Later when she moved on to McNeese, she started making history for the team immediately. She was the second coach in their history to have more than 10 wins in her first two seasons. The season before she left for UH, she earned the Southland Coach of the Year Award as she led McNeese to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

It’s no surprise Besovic has been able to be successful at UH with her coaching history. But there’s only so much a coach can do. In the end, it comes down to the players under the coach’s lead.

Fortunately for Besovic, she is in charge of a talented group of players, many of whom were accomplished at their high schools and previous colleges.

Phonexay Chitdara, a junior who followed Besovic from McNeese, is one of the elder players on the team. While at McNeese, Chitdara gathered a 17-3 record in doubles play and secured a spot on the All-Louisiana Second Team. She helped out the Cougars this season by picking up 11 singles wins in the regular season.

The other oldest player on the team, junior Mimi Kendall-Woseley, had a great career prior to UH as well. In high school, she was a top 150 recruit all four years. In her freshman year at the University of Toledo, she won 18 singles matches and earned her place in the All-MAC Second Team.

The season before she transferred to UH, she went 9-3 in singles play and went undefeated in February.

The other players have also had high levels of success. Redshirt freshman Elena Tairyan and true freshman Stephanie Belovukovic were some of the best junior players in their respective countries before coming to college. Belovukovic was even in the top 100 sub-14-year-old players.

Sophomore Ndindi Ndunda was ranked at No. 82 in her class and had a junior international ranking of 150. Freshmen players Sophie Gerits and Jovana Vukovic have contributed to the team’s success by being effective in both singles and doubles play.

All of these players came from different places and different backgrounds, but the puzzle pieces came together and fit perfectly in Houston. Now the new team has an opportunity to grow even further as it continues its successful season into the AAC Tournament.

“With every match, we feel like we are more united,” Besovic said. “We cheer for each other, support each other, and that’s making a difference.”

The No. 3 seed Houston will play its first match of the AAC Tournament in Orlando April 18 against the winner of No. 11 Tulane versus No. 6 SMU.

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