Play provides insight for Big 12 preparations


Jen Hao Wong/Iowa State Daily

Junior Ksenia Pronina serves while partner freshman Samantha Budai waits for the return during Iowa State’s 7-0 win over North Dakota on Jan. 31 at Ames Racquet and Fitness Center.

Max Dible

The ebb and flow of ISU tennis has been violent in recent weeks, which has proved an untimely development as the team makes its way toward its most treacherous waters yet — the Big 12 Conference.

The team (8-4, 0-0 Big 12) is 2-2 in its last four matches, all of which have gone one of two ways — either Iowa State has won every point in a shutout or lost every point in the process of being swept.

The lack of consistency and the drastic differences in results from week to week may be explained in part by an increased talent level among the competition, which the Cyclones saw against Minnesota and Marshall two weeks ago.

No. 1 Ksenia Pronina, junior singles player, said the resounding defeats suffered by Iowa State are the types of losses that can keep a team humble and hungry.

“We had a lot of wins to start,” Pronina said. “Now we have played some stronger teams, and they beat us pretty bad. That is when you see what you’ve got to work on to be able to stay in matches and stay competitive in the Big 12.”

ISU coach Armando Espinosa agreed that the experience of playing high-quality opponents is the best possible preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.

“I was looking at [those matches] as a measuring stick for what’s coming in the Big 12,” Espinosa said. “Sometimes we don’t play enough big name schools, so we see their facilities or how they play, and it psychs us out a little bit.”

Espinosa said the talent in the Big 12 surpasses even the toughest matches the Cyclones have seen to date, a fact not lost on his players.

“The Texas schools are pretty good,” Pronina said. “They’re all ranked pretty high, but there’s good depth in this conference, too.”

The conference depth is evident in the rankings as seven of the 10 teams in the Big 12 are currently ranked in the top-75.

Of those seven schools, three are listed among the best 25 teams in the nation. No. 14 Oklahoma leads the pack with a 9-1 record on the season. Baylor is nestled comfortably within the top-25 at the 18th spot, while Texas claims the 24th position, up from 26 last week.

Iowa State joins West Virginia and Kansas State as one of only three Big 12 teams without a number in front of its name, meaning every single meet is likely to be a battle, Espinosa said.

The Cyclones open conference play at home against Kansas on March 14 and follow that meet with a showdown against Kansas State on March 16.

The Cyclones have one more tuneup left before the Kansas schools come north: they will battle with Drake 5 p.m. on March 7 at Ames Racquet & Fitness Center.