ISU tennis take on Bulldogs at home


Jen Hao Wong/Iowa State Daily

Freshman Samantha Budai prepares her back swing during Iowa State’s 7-0 defeat of North Dakota on Jan. 31 at Ames Racquet and Fitness Center.

Max Dible

The Cy-Hawk series epitomizes in-state rivalry in Iowa, but Drake may be just as big of a rival for Iowa State when it comes to tennis.

The ISU tennis team (8-4, 0-0 Big 12) will renew its rivalry with Drake (7-2, 0-0 Missouri Valley) on March 7 as the Bulldogs try and sink their teeth into the heart of the Cyclone season.

Drake busted into the rankings March 4 at No. 72 after upsetting Nebraska, — which, despite falling in recent weeks, began the season at the top of the national rankings.

Drake followed that upset with a close loss to Iowa on March 5, engaging in a back and forth that — while less drastic — is similar to what Iowa State has experienced in its previous few meets.

ISU coach Armando Espinosa said that Drake will serve as great preparation for his team as it gets ready to stare down the barrel of the Big 12. Espinosa also said he is less worried his players will overlook the Drake meet than he is that they will make too big of a deal out of it.

“I’m concerned that we could make this meet mean more than it really does,” Espinosa said. “We don’t want to lose to them. There’s some animosity there with some of the girls because we play them every year.”

The Cyclones have never lost to the Bulldogs during Espinosa’s tenure as coach, including a 5-2 ISU win at home last season. This time, however, Drake comes in with a number in front of its name, but Espinosa said that won’t phase his players.

“It does not matter for us [that they are ranked],” Espinosa said. “We are not too worried about it. It is an in-state rivalry. They were always going to come with lots of energy. We just have to be ready to respond.”

The ISU response should be aided by the return of a healthy Samantha Budai, a freshman standout and the team’s No. 2 singles player, who has been battling tendinitis in both her knees and her shoulder.

“Sammy is going to go,” Espionsa said. “Resting her has been more of a precautionary measure. It never crossed my mind that she would not be here for the Drake match.”

Budai’s return likely means that freshman Talisa Merchiers will head back to the reserve squad after stepping in last weekend and earning two singles points for the Cyclones in her first action of the team season.

Merchiers said she is glad to see Budai back and that Espinosa has fostered a healthy sense of competition among her and her teammates.

“I don’t care if my teammates end up [playing instead of me].” Merchiers said. “I want to play, for sure, but it’s a good environment.”

Merchiers will have plenty of opportunities to shine in the future. By contrast, the 2014 stretch run is all that remains for senior Emma Waites.

It is a fact not lost on Waites as she heads to the court against Drake on March 7 for the final time in her career.

“They will give us a very hard-fought match,” Waites said. “We are ISU and they are Drake. They will get our best.”

Friday will prove whether or not Waites and the rest of the Cyclones’ bests are good enough as the matches begin at 5 p.m. at Ames Racquet and Fitness.