Kezuka and Kajuru headline Cyclone’s season-ending tournaments


Jacob Rice

Thasaporn Naklo competes against the Oklahoma Sooners on April 8.

Iowa State tennis will round out the fall season this week with two tournaments left in the season. The Cyclone squad will once again split ways, with players traveling to the ITA Fall National Championships in San Diego and the Big 12 Fall Series Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Cyclones will be headlined by senior Chie Kezuka and sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru, who will both be playing in their first Fall National Championships.

The duo is the third doubles pairing in Iowa State history to qualify for the season-ending championships, with teammates Miska Kadleckova, Sofia Cabezas, Thasaporn Naklo and Christin Hsieh all reaching the tournament last year.

To qualify for the Championships, Kezuka and Kajuru won the Cyclones’ second consecutive regional title, as they defeated Minnesota’s Anet Koskel and Zoey Weil in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.

For head coach Boomer Saia, seeing Kezuka and Kajuru go 5-0 and win the title was entertaining to watch.

“They really played some quality tennis,” Saia said of his players’ performances, “I think having two teams in the final last year, and we had never gotten to that point of having that before, and now here’s the second year in a row that we’ve had a regional winner in the doubles. They were a really steady team for us, so I think it was really exciting to see them come out on top of a major tournament.”

Kajuru and Kezuka boast winning records of 8-2 and 11-3, respectively, over this fall season. The pairing will face off against Delaware’s Eliza Askarova and Adel-Byanu Abidullina, who are their school’s first-ever qualifiers for the Fall National Championships.

Prior to joining the Blue Hens’ roster this season, Abidullina made waves in the Division II ranks at Central Oklahoma. Abidullina was a four-time Division II All-American across singles and doubles and posted an undefeated 17-0 record during the 2022 spring season.

While Kezuka and Kajuru take on the competition in San Diego, the rest of the Cyclone squad will travel back to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to compete in the Big 12 Fall Series Championships.

Kadleckova, who will be competing in both singles and doubles, is looking to use her previous performances at ITA Regionals to fuel her play come this week and the spring season next year.

“To be honest, the whole tournament, I didn’t play my best tennis,” Kadlekova said on her play at the regional tournament, “So, the experience that I took [away] was that if you believe and fight until the end, you still can win the match. It’s something that I want to carry on into the spring; if I don’t feel my best but can still fight, I still have a chance to put a point on the board for my team.”

Kadleckova, the No. 6 seed in the singles draw, reached the round of 16 at ITA Regionals before falling to Oklahoma State’s Sofia Rojas 6-4, 6-3. Rojas eventually went all the way to the semifinals, stopping Kajuru’s run as well in the last eight by a 7-5, 6-3 scoreline. This season, she has also been undefeated against ranked opponents, going 3-0.

This week, Kadleckova will be back on court again with Cabezas in doubles. The pair enjoyed much success last year, as they made history by becoming the first Iowa State players to qualify for both Fall Nationals and the NCAA Championships last spring.

Senior Naklo is also looking to rebound from her performances at Regionals. The No. 1 seed in the draw, she was unable to defend her title from last year, as she lost to Alana Wolfberg of Oklahoma State in a tight match, 6-4, 7-5.

Naklo spoke of getting right back to work coming off of the tournament, with the coaching staff making an emphasis on playing against “grinders.”

“After we came back from the regional tournament, the coach did a drill that can improve our quality ball to play against grinders, like the player that can make a lot of balls [in a match],” Naklo said. “I think we all focused on those situations.”

This week in Stillwater, Naklo will also be linking up with sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum in doubles play. The pair will be playing with each other for the first time this season, with Kuearum partnering primarily with Kajuru and Kadleckova throughout this fall.

The Cyclones will be rounded out by Hsieh, who made her return to court in regionals by winning the consolation title in singles.

The Taipei, Taiwan, native went 5-1 over the course of the week, ultimately clinching the final in a 10-point tiebreak against Kansas State’s Rozalia Gruszczynska 10-7.

It was Hsieh’s first run of matches for the Cyclones since May, when she and Naklo fell to South Carolina’s Ayana Akli and Ana Cruz of South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Team Championships.

The ITA Fall Championships will begin Wednesday and will be held at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, while the Big 12 Fall Series Championships will be held in Greenwood Tennis Center on Oklahoma State’s campus. Live results of both events can be accessed through the team’s athletics department webpage.