Doubles success nothing new for Cyclones


Jacob Rice

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

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

Iowa State’s tennis successes in recent weeks have been highlighted by one thing in particular — their doubles play.

The Cyclones capped off the ITA Central Regional Tournament in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Monday as junior Chie Kezuka and sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru advanced to the Fall National Championships after winning the tournament. 

The pair defeated Minnesota’s Anet Koskel and Zoey Weil, 6-3, 6-2, in the final Monday to secure their bid to the next round of postseason play.

Kajuru and Kezuka will both be making their debuts at Fall Nationals in San Diego. This achievement links them with teammates Thasaporn Naklo, Christin Hsieh, Sofia Cabezas and Miska Kadleckova as the only six players to ever reach the season-ending tournament in program history.

For Kezuka, a senior playing in her last fall season with the Cyclones, the experience in playing at regionals meant that she got to once again share the court with Kajuru, as the pair also played together last season.

“I was excited to play with her again,” Kezuka said on partnering up with Kajuru, “Our record last semester [together] was 17-3, and I just wanted to have fun with her.”

Along the way to those 17 wins last spring, the pair made history when they registered a record seven conference victories, going 7-1 throughout the season. Their play at the No. 3 spot helped the Cyclones to a 16-6 dual-meet record in the regular season.

Redemption was also a theme in Kezuka’s regional win. Last year, she played solely in singles and was one of two Cyclone players left in the main draw come the round of 16. That’s where she faced off against Arkansas’ Indianna Spink and lost a tough three-setter, 6-2, 5-7, 2-6.

“I think for me, it goes back to last year, when we had two doubles pairs playing in the final,” assistant coach Kenna Kilgo said. “Chie had made a run in singles but didn’t quite get so far to make it to Fall Nationals. So when she was looking at her teammates, and you had four or five girls going to Fall Nationals and you’re not, every match, she was closer to getting it. So when she made the finals [this year], she had the biggest smile on her face.”

Kilgo, now in her second full season as a member of the Cyclones’ staff, has been with head coach Boomer Saia since they both were coaching at Texas Tech. As a collegiate tennis player, she was part of the Red Raiders’ back-to-back Big 12 Conference Champion squads in 2012 and 2013.

For Kilgo, each tournament poses an opportunity for her players to grow, a lesson that was ever present at regionals when Naklo was unable to defend her singles title.

“I don’t think any of our girls have in their head [the thought] ‘Oh, because I lose I don’t get to go to this tournament,’ I think we take every match as a learning opportunity, and how can we grow as a player,” Kilgo said. “And so, I think that after her loss, there was a good amount that we could learn in our game to get better. I don’t think she took it too personally; it was just, ‘Hey, we gotta get back to work.’”

Kajuru, who, like Kezuka, is also originally from Japan, has been a breakout player for Iowa State ever since she debuted last spring. The Tokyo native was named the Big 12’s Player of the Week honors, a first in Iowa State history, while also posting a 14-7 record in singles.

In the doubles game, Kezuka pointed to her close bond with her teammate as a secret to their success together.

“We’re from the same country, so it’s so easy to communicate [on the court],” Kezuka said. “So, maybe that’s how we’ve been able to win. Outside of the court, we are also close friends, so it’s easier to help each other [on the court].”

Kajuru has added to her singles resume this season with a pair of quarter-final appearances at both ITA Regionals and the professional W15 Hilton Head tournament in South Carolina. 

She also made a previous semi-finals appearance in doubles with Anna Supapitch Keaurum, with the pair reaching the final four of the West Texas Pro Tennis Open last month.

Further play at W15 Hilton Head was canceled due to the threat posed by Hurricane Ian, but Kajuru concluded her experience at the tournament as a general success, saying, “I just tried to have fun.”

Kezuka commented on her teammate’s fearlessness around the court, which ultimately helped the pair in their run throughout the weekend.

“In important points, she’s not scared to poach or hit the ball,” Kezuka said of Kajuru’s offensive capabilities. “In our semifinal, we had a match point in the tiebreak of the second set, and she poached off of my second serve. Even though my second serve wasn’t that good, she [still] poached, and I think that point helped me a lot.”

This Cyclones squad has also had the advent of sticking together for the second consecutive year, with that added time spent together giving them much more experience in playing doubles with each other.

 During this fall season, Kajuru and Kezuka have each played with two different doubles partners (including each other), with all Iowa State players forming new combinations from one tournament to the net.

Ultimately for Kajuru, the aim of the game is to just relax and let the gameplay develop from there.

“I feel like it’s just [important] to have fun,” Kajuru said. “For practice and matches, if it’s not fun, I cannot focus on my tennis, so I just try to have fun with it.”