Top-25 matchup awaits Cyclones in inaugural meeting with Tigers


Daniel Jacobi II

The Iowa State tennis team huddles up before their matches against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Iowa State tennis will face their first test of the spring season on Friday, as they face off against No. 15 Auburn on the road.

The No. 22 Cyclones did not drop a game in their opening matches of the year, posting 7-0 victories against Drake and South Dakota in Des Moines. Across both duals and 18 matches, they didn’t drop a set and all three of the ranked players and pairs posted unbeaten records over the weekend.

Head coach Boomer Saia spoke of his team’s ability to “control the flow of the match,” a point that shook off some possible pre-match doubts.

“I think we had a little [bit] of nerves with us, but we were able to work through that,” Saia said. “I think that’s pretty typical of a first match, but they did a great job. The energy was really high; they stepped on court and did a great job of handling certain situations really professionally.”

Iowa State has been primarily on the road to start the season, traveling to Hawaii in early January to participate in the Weinman Foundation Invitational in Honolulu. There, they played a series of matches against players from USC, Washington and Washington State, and came away with an undefeated mark in the doubles game.

Leading the Cyclones in doubles at the moment are the all-Japanese pairing of sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru and senior Chie Kezuka. While they didn’t partner up with each other in Hawaii, the pairing went 2-0 in Des Moines by 6-3 and 6-2 scorelines in their matches. The pair are currently ranked 17th in the nation, the highest ever by an Iowa State team.

“There’s just such a really good balance between their gamestyles,” Saia said on Kajuru and Kezuka’s partnership, “I think their games complement each other well, and so when you take the communication part [both speak Japanese] and you match it with the tennis style of each, it works extremely well together.”

Iowa State also saw their newest player start for the first time, as freshman Xinyi Nong won both her singles and doubles matches.

The Wenshan, China native paired up with senior Thasaporn Naklo in doubles as the pair took down South Dakota’s Anna Medyvedyeva and Eesha Varma 6-0. She continued her winning ways in the singles against Selena Bird, producing a 6-0, 6-0 blanking to finish the weekend without dropping a game.

“She has tremendous potential and talent, and so I think her ceiling is very high,” Saia said on Nong’s prospects, “I’m excited for the opportunity to work with her, and she just brings just a level of energy and spark to the team. Whether it’s in practice or matches, she’s just a very fun person to be around, and I’m excited to move forward with her.”

Elsewhere for Iowa State, junior Miska Kadleckova has a chance to add her name to the record books as she inches closer to the 100-win mark in her collegiate career. Kadleckova sits at a career record of 98-39, and would become the third player that Saia has recruited to reach that milestone.

Naklo and Kezuka are the other two players during Saia’s time as head coach to also reach the 100-win milestone, which they both achieved during the fall season. Naklo currently has 125 career victories as a Cyclone, making her the seventh-winningest player in program history. She is currently on a winning streak in both singles and doubles, taking the last nine matches that she’s played in.

Friday will also mark the first time that Iowa State and Auburn have squared off. The match will also mark the Tigers’ first dual match of the season, as they will also host against No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday.

Like Iowa State, the Tigers feature a few players ranked nationally, with junior Ariana Arsenault and senior Carolyn Ansar both currently included in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s tennis rankings in both singles and doubles. As a pair, they went 7-1 during the fall season and sit at No. 10 in the country.

Saia hopes that his team will carry their all-around performances from the matches against Drake and South Dakota into Friday. He also stressed the importance of his team’s confidence no matter who they play against.

“First and foremost, we’re just excited about the opportunity, and I just want to see us fearless in big moments,” Saia said, “When you take the result out of it, I just want us to play with the right mindset of zero fear, and playing to win.”

The Cyclones and Tigers will face off at noon on Friday at the Yarbrough Tennis Center in Auburn, Alabama. A live stream of the match can be found here, with live stats also being accessed here.