ISU tennis swept in weekend matches by Kansas, Kansas State

Max Dible

Iowa State suffered through a stormy weekend on the court as it opened Big 12 Conference play against Kansas and Kansas State, but the two days of tennis were not absent bright spots.

The ISU tennis team (8-6, 0-2 Big 12) was run out of the gym by No. 35 Kansas (10-3, 2-0 Big 12) on Friday by a score of 6-1 in a meet that ISU coach Armando Espinosa characterized as lacking in effort.

The Cyclones followed up that performance with what Espinosa said was a more promising effort against No. 52 Kansas State (8-5, 2-0 Big 12), but still lost, 5-2. Both meets were played at Ames Racquet and Fitness.

Amidst the two meets in which the Cyclones tallied only three total points, freshman Talisa Merchiers found a way to make a splash as she was given an opportunity to play at No. 6 singles with freshman Samantha Budai sidelined due to injury.

Merchiers fell in her first match of the weekend versus Morgan Barnhill of Kansas, but fought back from a second set deficit to force a tiebreak, ultimately losing 6-3, 7-6(0).

In Merchiers’ second match of the weekend, she found herself down a set and losing 3-0 in the second. It was at that point Merchiers rallied, coming all the way back to shock Iva Bago of Kansas State by claiming the match for Iowa State in a third set super tiebreak, 1-6, 7-5, 1-0(6).

“She started making mistakes and I got fired up,” Merchiers said. “I felt so hot. I was so motivated. That is how I won. I just kept thinking to myself, ‘I have to win.'”

Merchiers said an important factor in her comeback victory was the knowledge that Iowa State was still in contention to win the meet at that point in the action.

“I saw that Ana [Gasparovic] was still fighting and I was counting,” Merchiers said. “Meghan [Cassens] had won already and Emma [Waites] was still playing. I really wanted to win it for the team, so I just kept fighting.”

Espinosa said he was impressed by Merchiers’ results, especially because in his opinion Bago of Kansas State was a superior competitor to Barnhill of Kansas, who Merchiers lost to on Friday. Espinosa also said the victory put Merchiers one step closer to a permanent spot in the singles rotation.

“We need to make sure that is the kind of effort we get from Talisa every time,” Espinosa said. “That is going to be the bottom line in terms of finding out who we are going to play. It is based on effort on the court. It is not about winning and losing, it is just about giving us a chance to win every time out.”

Junior Meghan Cassens also had a successful weekend, playing up a spot at No. 2 singles as an injury-hampered Budai sat out the singles competitions, participating only in the doubles contests.

“I do not know if playing up takes the pressure off because it is a spot I am not ‘supposed’ to win at, but these matches are always going to be tough, so you have to go out there with no fear and just go for it,” Cassens said.

Like Merchiers, Cassens also lost her match to Kansas Friday, dropping the point in a nail biter to Maria Jose Cardona, 6-2, 3-6, 1-0 (8).

Cassens rebounded from the defeat and was in the process of rolling over Maria Panaite of Kansas State before Panaite withdrew from the match due to a foot injury. The match was called a victory for Cassens by a score of 6-3, 5-0 (ret.).

The meet against Kansas State was played in reverse order, as doubles were held after singles and not before as usual.

Due to Panaite’s injury, Kansas State forfeited the No. 3 doubles spot, surrendering one match in a best-of-three series played to claim the doubles point.

By that time, however, the forfeit was a mute point as was the doubles contest itself, because Kansas State had already clinched the meet by winning four of the six singles matches.

“We were a little bit flat on those doubles toward the end,” Espinosa said. “It is kind of hard to come out pumped after you have already lost the meet.”

In Budai’s only action of the day, she teamed up with junior Ksenia Pronina at No. 1 doubles, where the tandem were beaten soundly by Petra Niedermayerova and Amina St. Hill, 6-1.

Cassens and sophomore Ana Gasparovic came up just short at No. 2 doubles, losing by a score of 6-4 and officially ending the meet as a 5-2 victory for Kansas State.

The Cyclones continue Big 12 play next weekend as they travel to Austin for a showdown at No. 22 Texas at 6 p.m. Friday, March 21. Iowa State will cap off the road trip Sunday at No. 17 Baylor with matches set to begin at 1 p.m.