TENNIS: Cyclones fall in home finale to Texas Tech

Dan Tracy —

With temperatures in the low 70’s on Sunday morning the Cyclones hosted the Texas Tech Raiders at the Forker Courts in a Big 12 conference match. The weather not being an issue, the match was the first Big 12 match Iowa State had hosted outdoors in more than four years.

The teams began play in doubles action with Red Raider Kelsy Garland and Natalie Leitch defeating the No. 1 doubles pair of junior Erin Karonis and freshman Jenna Langhorst 8-6. The Cyclones bounced back at the No. 2 position when sophomores Maria Macedo and Tessa Lang defeated Sandra Dynka and Elizabeth Ullathorne 8-4. However, the Red Raiders would prevail in the final doubles match as Stefanie Peana and Caroline Starck defeated junior Liza Wischer and senior Alyssa Palen 8-6, giving Texas Tech a 1-0 lead in the match.

The Forker Courts were nearly filled in singles play as all six matches were played simultaneously. The Red Raiders took a 2-0 lead when Ullathorne defeated sophomore Marie-Christine Chartier in straight sets 6-0, 6-0. In similar fashion, Wischer picked up victory No. 10 on the season at No. 6 singles with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Peana. At No. 3 singles, Lang fell to Garland 6-0, 6-2 to give Texas Tech a 3-1 lead.

In a must-win situation for the remainder of the match, Karonis did her part to help the Cyclones chances, defeating Dynka at No. 1 singles 6-2, 6-1. With only two matches remaining on the court, Raider Leitch stopped a late charge by Macedo, winning 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) and sealing the victory for Texas Tech. With the match decided, Starck downed Langhorst in three sets 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 to put the final touches on a 5-2 victory.

“We just need to execute, it came down to execution and I think we had the right game plan we just didn’t execute it,” Espinosa said.

Texas Tech (7-10, 2-5 Big 12) was coming off of a narrow 4-3 loss to Nebraska (17-12) yesterday. With the match coming down to the final two matches, Espinosa hopes that by seeing the opportunity to win against a good Red Raiders team that it will help the team as they finish the remainder of the season.

“Hopefully this gives the girls a little bit more confidence going into the tournament or even the next few matches,” Espinosa said.

Not only was the match the last at home for the Cyclones this season, it was the final home match of Palen’s career. The Rochester, Minn., native followed her sister Jill, also a member of the tennis team, to Ames four years ago. Since that time, Palen saw the Cyclones 79-match losing streak in the Big 12 come to an end last season and has helped lead a young 2009-’10 squad to two Big 12 victories, which is tied for the most in school history.

“I can’t believe it’s come to an end, it doesn’t seem like it should be over,” Palen said. “It’s nice because this year I think has been our best season because the program has taken such a big step, I’m happy with [my career] overall.”

As the team’s lone senior, Palen took on a bigger leadership role following the absence of last year’s lone senior Kara Hickey.

“She’s a really good leader and always sets a good example for everyone on the team,” Karonis said. “She has a huge impact on the team with her positive attitude and her motivation.”

Playing with teammate and roommate junior Liza Wischer, Palen has 10 wins in doubles this season and a win in singles against South Dakota.

“This year it was so fun playing doubles with her because we’ve never been able to play before,” Wischer said. “It’s going to be sad when she leaves but it’s been a really good experience.”

Of course having to only replace one senior bodes well for next year’s squad, but Espinosa will miss the versatility that Palen has shown over the past four years.

“She’s assumed so many different roles on the team,” Espinosa said. “She’s sometimes played singles, sometimes plays doubles sometimes both and sometimes none and she has really understood what her role on the team is. [This season] she has done a tremendous job allowing us to be competitive in doubles.”

Palen will return to Iowa State in the fall of 2010 to finish her degree in psychology before pursuing graduate school studies in school psychology.

The loss drops the Cyclones to 9-10 and 2-5 in the Big 12 this season. With only four matches remaining before the Big 12 tournament, Iowa State will be back in action next weekend with matches at Texas A&M and at Texas.