Saia and Iowa State tennis are back to business


Jacob Rice

Members of the Iowa State tennis team huddle together during the Cyclones’ match against the Oklahoma Sooners April 8.

It was back to work for Iowa State tennis this past week, as the Cyclones returned to the Forker tennis courts to practice for the upcoming fall season.

The last couple of years have seen the Cyclones create their own history, as they qualified for the NCAA Championships in both 2021 and 2022. During the fall season, Iowa State qualified five players for the national championships, with pairs Sofia Cabezas and Miska Kadleckova and Christine Hsieh and Thasaporn Naklo moving onto the big stage. 

The pairs played against each other in the regional championship, with Cabezas and Kadleckova defeating their teammates in the final in Iowa City.

Cabezas attributes her partnership success with Kadleckova to the number of matches played together. 

“I feel like friendship is important,” The Valencia, Venezuela, native said of their pairing. “Mostly just playing games [together] and to know each other’s game styles. Matches are what give you that emotion and chemistry.”

Cabezas and Kadleckova finished last season ranked 85th in the country. Outside of qualifying for Fall Nationals, the pair also notched a win over No. 25 duo Sarah Hamner and Misa Malkin of North Carolina.

With all seven Cyclones playing doubles, the questions around who will be paired with whom remain as the fall season approaches. Head coach Boomer Saia stressed top-level play no matter the partner.

“In all honesty, I think we talk a lot regardless of who your partner is, that there is a level of just playing Cyclone doubles,” Saia said. “Great energy, great aggressiveness. So I think this fall that you’ll see a lot of different pairings from the Cyclones, but all in all, that brand will still be the same.”

This season will have a full roster return for the Cyclones, a fact that highlights the veteran background of the squad. Of Iowa State’s seven players, the five that advanced to fall nationals are all either juniors or seniors, all of whom have a wide variety of collegiate matches under their belts as well.

“I’m really curious to see how they respond because it’s been such a great progression the last four years. Now we bring back a level of experience,” Saia said. “Everybody on this team knows what college tennis is about and what they’re getting into.”

Now in his fifth season as head coach of the Cyclones, Saia has overseen a rejuvenation of the program. Last year, Iowa State started off the year 11-0 in their dual meet schedule, a school record, and beat long-time conference opponents Kansas and TCU in their own backyards for the first time ever.

Stats aside, Saia looks to focus on his team’s playing level rather than results.

“We didn’t set many measurement goals for ourselves this season. When we step on the court, we’re going to fight as hard as we can for each other,” Saia said. “So if we can do that everytime, the results I think will take care of themselves.”

Thasaporn Naklo made history on a couple of occasions last season, as she became the first singles player from Iowa State to qualify for both the Fall National Championships as well as the NCAA Championships in the spring.

She won her first match at nationals against No. 72 Elaine Chervinsky of Virginia but fell in the round of 32 to NC State’s Abigail Renchili 7-6, 5-7, 0-6. Naklo experienced severe cramping during her second round match against Renchili but played through to finish the three-set match.

Not taking a rest off from her campaign, Naklo played in off-season tournaments in her native Thailand. In the professional Chang Rai 8 tournament in June, Naklo advanced all the way to the final where she fell to Japan’s Rama Ueda 2-6, 6-2, 6-7.

“I think the level is kind of similar, but the energy is different. College tennis has more energy and intensity [than the professional game],” Naklo said.

Her next win will be her 100th across both singles and doubles, a feat that will have her join a list of 16 Cyclone women to reach that milestone.

Outside of their play on the court, members of the Cyclone team have also been focusing on the mental aspect of the game.

“I think it’s vital to give them the correct resources and outlets to help. Mental health is such a massive topic in the world, and there’s so much validity to it,” Saia said. “If you’re feeling good with your mental health, oftentimes the tennis will flourish, but more importantly it’s a life thing. It’s definitely a massive importance on our program that we stress it.”

Cabezas offered a personal perspective on the subject, saying, “I’ve been meditating and working on my routines on the court. Creating those habits is really important.”

Iowa State tennis will kick off the fall season on Sept. 16 when they will travel up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to play in the Milwaukee Tennis Classic.