TENNIS: Tough history, Texas teams loom

Maria Fernanda Macedo plays on March 12 at Ames Racquet and Fitness. The Cyclones will face both Texas and Texas A&M this week. File photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Maria Fernanda Macedo plays on March 12 at Ames Racquet and Fitness. The Cyclones will face both Texas and Texas A&M this week. File photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Dan Tracy —

When the Big 12 Conference began competition 1996, the existing teams of the Big Eight Conference — which included Iowa State — welcomed in four Texas schools: Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.

In women’s tennis, the Lonestar State schools did not return the welcome, especially not to Iowa State.

The four teams have combined for 58 wins and zero losses against the Cyclones during the past thirteen seasons, the latest being a 5-2 ISU loss at the hands of Texas Tech last weekend.

ISU coach Armando Espinosa saw a few opportunities to defeat the Red Raiders that may not be present when the Cyclones take on two of their other Texas-based Big 12 foes, No. 34 Texas A&M and No. 20 Texas, this weekend.

“On Sunday I think we were right there with Texas Tech and so I think the possibilities of beating that team were greater than beating a Texas A&M, Texas or Baylor,” Espinosa said. “They play much tougher competition because they have the budget to travel around and there’s a lot more that they have with the tradition of their programs.”

Although they will be heavy underdogs this weekend, Espinosa hopes that the matches against Texas A&M and Texas will help them improve before their final two matches against a pair of lesser-ranked opponents in No. 43 Oklahoma and No. 59 Oklahoma State.

“If we go out there and we’re practicing what we’re practicing here today, that’s only going to give us a little bit more confidence that we can apply to Oklahoma and [Oklahoma] State and then from then on, more importantly for the Big 12 Championship,” he said.

The Cyclones (9-10, 2-5 Big 12) are currently in 10th place in the Big 12 but are hoping to improve their first-round draw in the Big 12 Conference Tournament with a win.

“If we win one more we can maybe get tied in with Kansas State and maybe Colorado so we probably could potentially move up into maybe eighth or ninth,” Espinosa said. “Right now realistically I think tenth would be where we’ll end up.”

The Cyclones opponents this weekend, Texas A&M (10-5, 5-0) and Texas (10-4, 5-1), have had a lot in common this season. Both teams have three singles players ranked in the top 110 nationally, each has beaten Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech for their five Big 12 wins and both teams have faced the top team in the Big 12, No. 2 Baylor this season; Texas lost 5-2 and Texas A&M played Baylor late Wednesday night.

In addition to their three players ranked nationally in singles, the Aggies boast three doubles pairings which also have national rankings, led by the No. 29 ranked pairing of Elze Potgeiter and Nazari Urbina.

The Longhorns lone Big 12 loss came at the hands of Baylor who was ranked No. 1 in the nation at that time.

Despite the mid-season loss, Texas will still carry a lot of momentum into this weekend following a 6-1 upset on Saturday over the No. 5 ranked team in the country, Northwestern. The Longhorns are led by the third-highest ranked singles player in the Big 12, No. 22 Aeriel Ellis.

For the Cyclones, sophomores Maria Macedo and Tessa Lang have won eight-straight matches at No. 2 doubles, leading the Cyclones doubles pairings at 11-6 on the season.

The eight match winning streak has shown the experience that the pair has developed over the past few months.

“At the beginning of the season they had never really played together so starting off they really had to find their own identity in doubles and I think they found that niche,” Espinosa said. “They aren’t doing anything fantastic or out of the ordinary just playing very smart and very solid.”

Despite the Cyclones’ success on the doubles court, the team has struggled in singles, only winning seven of their last 24 matches on the singles court. Lang points to the “little things” as a key reason why the Cyclones have faltered in singles competition.

“It seems like in singles there are little things that we need to work on in matches,” Lang said. “I think everybody is so close in points but it’s a matter of getting that last shot and the right points so that we can take the next step.”

Looking beyond the Cyclones final four matches, the team will make another trip back to Austin in two weeks for the Big 12 Tournament.

“Right now I think the focus is to just improve and prepare for the Big 12 Conference Tournament, the four matches that we have are going to be important but they are going to be much harder than what we’ve had in the past,” Espinosa said.

Iowa State will face Texas A&M at 6 p.m. Friday in College Station and then make the trip to Austin at 2 p.m. Saturday.