Cyclones set to face off against No. 18 Bruins in Miami


Daniel Jacobi II

Thasaporn Naklo gets into position as her teammate serves the ball during their match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Iowa State tennis will be back on the road again this week, as they prepare to face off against a pair of the nation’s best teams.

The Cyclones will travel to the Sunshine State of Florida this weekend to participate in the ITA Kickoff in Miami. The tournament will feature three teams ranked within the top 25 in the nation, including the No. 24. Cyclones. They will get the chance to face both No. 18 UCLA and No. 10 Miami or Florida International.

In their last time out on the court, the Cyclones dropped their first dual match of the season in a 5-2 loss to Auburn. Iowa State earned both of their points in the singles category, with Miska Kadleckova and Ange Oby Kajuru earning victories.

Kadleckova went 1-1 in the dual, earning her fifth straight victory by defeating Kaitlyn Carnicella after a 10-7 win in the deciding set. The match was also Kadleckova’s fifth win against a ranked player this season, as she had last beat California’s Hannah Viller Moeller, who is currently ranked 93rd in the nation, in the opening tournament of the year.

The back-and-forth aspect of the match is something that Kadleckova said she has plenty of experience with.

“I feel like I’ve played a lot of close matches, matches where it’s up-and-down,” Kadleckova said, “I was just trying not to think too much about the score… I was just trying to stay calm, focus on my game and trying to see if I could do my best.”

Now heading into this week, Kadleckova has a chance to become the third player under head coach Boomer Saia’s tenure to record 100 career wins as a Cyclone, and would become the fastest player in the history of the program to reach that mark. In her three years as a Cyclone, the junior from Slovenia has compiled a nearly 75% winning percentage in singles, the highest among her current teammates.

“It will obviously be a good step forward,” Kadleckova said on reaching 100 career wins. “But I’m really not trying to focus on those things. Yeah, it’s obviously great to win every match, and I’m always trying to give my best. I’m not really counting it [though], because it will probably pressure me more than I [already] am, so we’ll see how far I can make it.”

Heading into this weekend, the Cyclones are now ranked in the Top 25 of the ITA’s team rankings for 15 consecutive weeks, a school record. That level of standard looks to be challenged time and time again this season, as Saia remarked on the level of competition that his teams will face over the next few months.

“I think that this is one of our best groups that we’ve had since we’ve been here, so I think I really challenged us with the schedule this year on purpose,” Saia said, “To give more so our team opportunities to show what they can do. I think if we approach it the right way and consider the opportunity, it’ll be a great weekend for us.”

One of those talents that the Cyclones will look towards to get wins on the board is sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru. Like Kadleckova, Kajuru is on a five-match winning streak in singles play, having upset No. 71 Carolyn Ansari last weekend 6-2, 6-2. She currently sports a 3-0 record at No. 2 singles and is the only Iowa State player with an undefeated record.

Kajuru was also 2-0 with partner Chie Kezuka heading into last weekend’s match against the No. 10 pairing of Ariana Arseneault and Ansari.

The Iowa State pair came up short, losing 6-1, and suffered their first loss as a partnership. It was a match and experience that Kajuru described as “quick.” She spoke of the importance of taking things light on the court in order to achieve success.

“I usually think about it as trying to have fun,” Kezuka said, “I try to have a good mental [approach] to things, so I just focus on this weekend’s match ahead of me.”

The Cyclones’ first matchup of the weekend against the Bruins will be the first time that both schools have faced off against each other. The Bruins come into the match with a 1-0 record in dual play, having blanked Loyola Marymount 7-0 on Wednesday to open their season.

Five of their players are currently ranked nationally in either singles or doubles. Fangrian Tran played in the top singles spot for the Bruins against Loyola Marymount, taking the match against Stefania Rogozinska-Dzik 6-0, 7-6 (7-3) to maintain her No. 94 ranking.

Kadleckova admitted the prospect of playing against the Bruins to be exciting, but also difficult considering the playing conditions in Miami.

“It’s obviously a good opportunity for us to play teams such as UCLA,” Kadleckova said on the prospect of Saturday’s match, “They have a great program, [and] they’ve been ranked within the top 20 for I don’t know how many years. I feel like it’s going to be challenging for everybody because [we’ll] be playing in 80s [degree weather], so it’s going to be tough probably, but I’m really excited for it.”

The No. 10 Hurricanes’ story season comes with a more local feature, as their best singles player, redshirt sophomore Alexa Noel, started out her collegiate career as an Iowa Hawkeye in 2020.

During that freshman season, Noel was ranked as one of the top players in the country, earning Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Year honors and ending her year as a first-team All-American and NCAA Championships qualifier. She’s also had success in the junior Grand Slam circuit, reaching the Wimbledon Girls’ Singles final and third in 2019.

Saia hopes that the matches this weekend will be a launching pad for his team to bounce back on after the defeat to the Tigers last weekend and a teaching moment for all members of the squad.

“I think some of them are disappointed with their performance against Auburn, and that’s just going to happen,” Saia said. “But I think just think again of that opportunity to respond, to do it again, and get the opportunity to show what we can really do [in the next match].”

Iowa State will take on the No. 18 Bruins at 1 p.m. Saturday, and either No. 10 Miami or Florida International at either 9 a.m. or noon.

All matches will take place at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center in Coral Gables. Live streams and stats of both of the weekend’s matches can be found here.