Iowa State tennis: Another historic season


Jacob Rice

Ange Oby Kajuru gets ready to serve the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners on April 8.

Christian Royston

The Iowa State tennis team put together another historic season as it all culminated in an NCAA Individual Championship appearance by Thasaporn Naklo. Although her run was cut short due to an untimely injury, history was made.

There were many standouts among the lineup throughout the season, and school records seemed to be a common occurrence for the Cyclones. Now that the season is over, the team can look to the bright future ahead.

Winning season

For the third-straight season under head coach Boomer Saia’s tenure, the Cyclones finished the season with a winning record. With a 16-7 record, the Cyclones ended the season ranked No. 35.

The second-straight top-35 finish was highlighted by six top-50 wins, four Big 12 wins to match the school record and a school-record three Big 12 road wins. It was the second-straight season that the Cyclones amassed four wins in the tough Big 12 conference. 

One of the most notable wins came in Lawrence, Kansas when the Cyclones took down the highest-ranked opponent in school history, the No. 22 Jayhawks. The strong performance during the regular season was a factor in Iowa State’s selection to the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA tournament birth was the second-straight appearance by the Iowa State tennis team, which marked the second time in the program’s history that they competed in the tournament. Although the Cyclones fell to No. 28 South Carolina in the opening round, they did send Naklo to a historic appearance in the NCAA Individual Championship. 

Naklo makes history

Naklo started her NCAA singles tournament in dominant fashion, taking the first match in straight sets. She had to battle back from a deficit in the first set but came back to win the set 6-4. 

A 6-2 victory in the second set made Naklo the first Cyclone ever to win a match in the NCAA Individual Championship. Of course, her postseason run wasn’t over there, as the win moved her into the second round of the tournament to face off against NC State’s Abigail Rencheli.

Naklo fought hard in her second match to battle back from an early deficit in the first set to take it 7-6 (3). After trailing again in the second set, Naklo battled back to take a 5-4 lead.

With match point on the line, leading 40-love, Naklo suffered leg cramps causing her to drop the next two sets. After a short break, it was clear that Naklo couldn’t move like she used to and ended up dropping the final set 0-6.

It is always tough to see an athlete’s postseason dreams end with an injury, but Naklo battled hard through her injury and still made a historic run for the Cyclones. Naklo, just like the Cyclones team as a whole, was consistently in the national rankings. She ended her season with a 23-13 record and sat just outside the top-50 players in the nation for most of the year.

Doubles success

Two faces that saw a lot of recognition throughout the season were Ange Oby Kajuru and Chie Kezuka. 

Both athletes earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors during the season as they posted a 17-3 record and secured many notable wins. The duo had the lone win against a tough Texas team in the Big 12 Championship. 

Kajuru and Kezuka’s success in the regular season and the Big 12 tournament helped them earn All-Big 12 honors. The duo was named No. 3 Doubles Individual Champions with their 7-1 record in the conference. They also earned Second Team All-Big 12 Doubles honors for the first time in school history.

As a freshman, Kajuru earned Second Team All-Big 12 Singles honors and was named to the All-Freshman Team. She is only the fifth All-Big 12 selection in school history and the third ever to be named to the All-Freshman team.

Kezuka was named the No. 5 Singles Individual Champion with her record-breaking eight wins in the Big 12 conference. Kezuka amassed an 18-1 record throughout the season as she rattled off 16-straight wins at one point.

Having success all around the lineup was a big reason the Cyclones saw success as a team. 

With the season done and gone, there is a lot to look forward to in the near future. The tennis team are sophomores and below, which means more years of historic performances are sure to come.

With the young nature of the team and Saia only four seasons into his coaching role, the future is as bright as it has ever been.