Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones sweep titles at Big 12 Fall Invite


Jacob Rice

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

The Iowa State tennis squad wrapped up the fall season in strong fashion on Sunday, as the Cyclones went two-for-two in finals at the Big 12 Fall Series tournament in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Senior Thasaporn Naklo defeated teammate, sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum, to capture her first title of the year in a straight sets victory. Doubles pairing Sofia Cabezas and Miska Kadleckova also faced familiar foes in their final, as they defeated Naklo and Kuearum to close out their seasons, also in straight sets.

Out at the ITA Fall National Championships in San Diego, the Cyclones were boosted in their doubles play by Chie Kezuka and Ange Oby Kajuru, who went 1-2 earlier in the week and came away with a first-class upset against ranked competition.

Naklo takes home singles and double hardware

The No. 39-ranked Naklo came away from her last tournament of the fall season with a combined 6-1 record across both singles and doubles. The Thai native earned her first title of the season by defeating all of her opponents in the singles draw in straight sets, climaxed by a 6-1, 6-1 victory over her teammate Kuearum.

Coming into the tournament, Naklo had previously fallen in the round of 16 at the ITA Regionals tournament, as she was upset by Oklahoma State’s Alana Wolfberg 6-4, 7-5. Considered one of the favorites to win the title as the No. 1 seed, she was unable to defend her championship from last fall when she became the first Cyclone singles player to qualify for the Fall National Championships.

Naklo marked her return to the Greenwood Tennis Center in Stillwater with a pair of straight-set victories against Lyubov Kostenko and Florentine Dekkers of Baylor and Kansas State, respectively. The top seed continued her winning streak in the semifinals by taking down Kansas’ Malkia Ngounoue, a three-time All-Big 12 player, 6-3, 6-1 before her finals win over Kuearum.

In doubles, Naklo and Kuearum made a formidable pairing as they linked up for the first time this season. After getting a 6-3 first round win against Paula Baranano and Alina Shcherbinina of Baylor, the pair faced a tougher test in the quarterfinals.

Up against No. 3 seeds Alexandra Pisareva and Romana Ciskova of Oklahoma, Iowa State pushed their opponents the full distance, eventually taking the one-set match seven points to four in the tiebreaker. Their final against Cabezas and Kadleckova was another back-and-forth affair, but they fell 5-7 to their teammates.

Kuearum defeats top-ranked player

Like her teammate Naklo, sophomore Kuearum took up double duties in her last tournament of the season, as she also played singles and doubles matches in Stillwater. In her run to the final of the main bracket’s top flight, Kuearum began the journey with a battle in the round of 16. Facing off against No. 89 Kristina Novak of Oklahoma State, the sophomore was in for a tight match.

Prior to joining the Cowgirls before the start of this year, Novak was a key player in the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ lineup and finished her sophomore year last season with a 21-10 record in singles. The two-time All-Big Ten selection finished the season ranked 108th in the country by the ITA, and was ranked as high as 921 on the WTA’s list.

Novak took command of the match early, posting a 6-1 scoreline to win the opening set. Kuearum responded strongly in the second set and won that with a 6-1 point spread of her own. The momentum seemed to turn in favor of the Iowa State player, as Kuearum rolled away in the third 6-2 to record her first victory against a nationally-ranked opponent.

Kuearum had come up big in the past for the Cyclones, having played in the No. 4 spot during her first spring campaign last year. Her victories in the dual matches against Kansas and Iowa helped the Cyclones record major wins in their eventual qualification to the NCAA team championships.

The quarter and semi-final ties were a bit more straightforward for Kuearum, who took down her opponents in two sets. Alexandra Pisareva and Emma Staker, both from Oklahoma, lost by scorelines of 6-2, 6-2 and 6-4, 6-2, respectively, as Kuearum continued her winning ways all the way to the final. While she lost to teammate Naklo, Kuearum’s performances seemed to set a trend for the Cyclones in Stillwater, as they went 8-1 across both disciplines on the day she beat Novak.

Kadleckova also recorded a win against a ranked opponent, as she upset third seed and No. 93, Ivana Corley of Oklahoma, in the opening round of singles play. The 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 win was Kadleckova’s second of the season against ranked players, as she and Kezuka took down Syracuse’s Miyuka Kimoto and Polina Kozyreva (No. 11) at the ITA All-American Championships 7-6, 6-1. Kadleckova posted a 6-1 record in her matches over the course of the week.

Kezuka, Kajuru defeat former NCAA Champion

The storyline for the Cyclones in San Diego centered around doubles partners Chie Kezuka and Ange Oby Kajuru, as they both set foot in new territory at the ITA Fall National Championships.

Kezuka and Kajuru were the Cyclones’ third doubles pair in two years to qualify for the season-ending championships after having won the Stillwater regional championship. Their first match at the Barnes Tennis Center was against another pair of first-time qualifiers, Delaware’s Adel-Byanu Abidullina and Eliza Askarova.

Both of the Blue Hens’ representatives had multiple double-digit win seasons under their belt prior to this year, with Abidullina recording an undefeated season in singles as a senior at Central Oklahoma. The Moscow native went 17-0 in singles and 18-1 in doubles during her senior year to earn a pair of First-Team All-American awards. Askarova was a two-time team MVP for the Blue Hens during her freshman and sophomore campaigns and won 21 matches in both singles and doubles as a junior.

Kezuka and Kajuru fell behind in the match, with the Delaware pairing taking the opening set 6-4. The Cyclones responded by holding serve throughout the second frame and managed to win that one by a commanding 6-1 scoreline. In the decider, both pairs traded blows and were deadlocked at nine points apiece. Abidullina and Askarova were able to hang through the last stretch, as they took the set and match on an 11-9 score.

Now in the consolation bracket, Kezuka and Kajuru faced one of the tournament’s seeded pairs in the first round. Nell Miller and Amelia Rajecki of North Carolina State were upset in the main bracket by Louisiana State’s Anastasiya Komar and Nikita Vishwase in another tight three-setter, with the LSU pair coming out on top 10-6 in the tiebreak.

Miller and Rajecki also both qualified for the NCAA Championships last year with different partners, and Miller won her school’s first collegiate tennis title with Jaeda Daniel. The pair finished the season ranked No. 1 in the ITA polls, another first for their program.

In the opening set, Miller and Rajecki took the opening set, but not without a fight from the Iowa State pairing. The scoreline of 7-5 indicated a test of who would break serve first, and in that case, it happened to the Wolfpack players. The second set was nearly all Iowa State, as Kezuka and Kajuru evened things up with a 6-2 score.

With that came another tiebreaker, and again the NC State pairing took the lead early, going up 3-1 after the first four points. Kezuka and Kajuru rallied from there on out and came back to lead 5-3 on a four-point run. Miller and Rajecki again took the lead at 6-5, but Iowa State still would not go away, as Kezuka and Kajuru produced another unbroken run. After five straight points, the pair earned an upset victory on a 10-6 scoreline.

After earning a bye, Kezuka and Kajuru faced No. 22 Patricia Patricija and Domenika Turkovic of Arizona State. This time, however, the tide seemed to turn against Kezuka and Kajuru, as the Sun Devils duo put away the Cyclones 7-5, 6-3 and eliminated them from the tournament.

The Cyclones will return to court next year for the spring season, but the team has yet to post their schedule.