Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones upset UCLA, Miami to win ITA Kickoff


Daniel Jacobi II

Miska Kadleckova celebrates winning a match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

Iowa State tennis capped off a successful weekend by taking down No. 10 Miami 4-3 on their home court in Coral Gables, Florida.

Sunday’s victory guaranteed the No. 24 Cyclones victory in the ITA Kickoff Tournament, and also meant automatic qualification for the Indoor National Championships, which will be hosted in a couple of weeks in Seattle.

The Cyclones’ pair of victories over the Hurricanes in the final and the No. 18 UCLA Bruins in the semifinal Saturday marked the first time that they have defeated top-20 opponents in consecutive matches this season. They now sit at a record of 4-1 on the season.

Both of the Cyclones’ duals over the weekend were characterized by fine margins, as they first came back down 3-0 to the Bruins and won four-out-of-six singles matches to win 4-3. Then against Miami, they again faced a deficit, this time 3-1 after taking the doubles point, and came back strong again in singles to win the match.

The weekend’s results earned Iowa State their 12th and 13th wins over top-50 opponents since head coach Boomer Saia took over in 2018, with the win against Miami being the highest-ranked upset in program history.

Kadleckova reaches 100 career wins

Junior Miska Kadleckova made history on Saturday, as she became the 18th player in Iowa State’s history to win at least 100 career games. 

In the match against the Bruins, Kadleckova’s 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win over No. 120 Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer brought her a century of victories as a Cyclone, joining teammates Thasaporn Naklo and Chie Kezuka as the three most recent players to accomplish that feat. The Slovakia native is now 5-0 in three-set matches this season and 11-3 over the last two years.

Kadleckova played the role of closer for Iowa State, providing the final nail in the coffin against UCLA and extending her current winning streak to six. The win was also Kadleckova’s fifth against a ranked opponent this season, a metric in which she leads her team.

In doubles, Kadleckova and Sofia Cabezas took down Miami’s Daevenia Achong and Maya Tahan to help secure the Cyclones the doubles point. The win was a bounce-back moment for the pair, as they were handed a 6-3 defeat by Vannessa Ong and Sasha Vagramov of UCLA on Saturday.

Against the Hurricanes in singles, Kadleckova again provided positive results for Iowa State. Slotted in the No. 4 singles spot for the second consecutive match, she defeated Audrey Boch-Collins in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, to finish her weekend with a 3-1 mark.

Kajuru, Naklo deliver in key moments

The Cyclones got a majority of their victories against UCLA and Miami in singles, with Naklo and Kajuru providing big wins for them across both duals.

Kajuru has been Iowa State’s steady presence in the No. 22 singles spot to start this season and entered the match against the Bruins on a five-match win streak and a 9-1 record in her last 10 played.

The matchup in singles for Kajuru was against 46th-ranked Kimmi Hance, whom she had lost to earlier in the day in doubles with partner Kajuru. In a match between two of the top 20 doubles pairings in the country, it was the Bruins who came out on top 6-2 to add to their dominant display.

Kajuru was down to start the match, as Hance took the first set 6-4 to open things up. The Tokyo native fought back across the second and third frames, taking them both by a score of 6-2 to exact revenge for her doubles defeat against Hance.

Against the Hurricanes, Kajuru partnered up with freshman Xinyi Nong, and the pair were trailing their opponents 4-5 when the doubles point was clinched for singles. She got her second chance of the weekend to face ranked competition in singles, as she took on No. 60 Achong.

Ange Oby Kajuru prepares to receive the ball during her match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

Just like in her match against Hance, Kajuru fell behind early on and lost the opening set 2-6. Nevertheless, she hung through another back-and-forth encounter against Achong, taking the second set 6-4 before clinching the match and dual by a 7-5 scoreline. As Kadleckova had done a day prior against the Bruins, Kajuru repeated on Sunday for Iowa State. The weekend marked her fifth and sixth singles victories over ranked opponents this year so far.

Before Kajuru clinched the match, Naklo tied things up for the Cyclones at #1 singles in her match against No. 14 Alexa Noel. Naklo, currently ranked 57th in the nation, was searching for her third victory this season after losing her matches in the duals against both UCLA and Auburn.

Noel’s arrival to the Hurricanes came on the heels of a strong freshman season with the Iowa Hawkeyes two years ago, when she earned Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Year of the Honors and finished the season as a first-team All-American. The New Jersey native missed the 2022 spring season due to injury after going 7-2 in singles during the fall.

Noel controlled the match’s pace against Naklo and won the first set 6-4. Naklo hung with her opponent though and was able to fight back in the second set to win it 6-3. In the decider, the Bangkok, Thailand native continued Iowa State’s momentum by clinching the tying point on a 6-4 victory.

Naklo’s win kept the match alive for the Cyclones, with Kajuru’s match and its drama still playing out. She also earned her fourth-ranked win in singles this season, with the victory over Noel being the highest-ranked opponent that she’s beaten this year.

Backs against the wall

Iowa State rolled with the punches throughout both matches in Florida and came out on top to take the title. For the first time this season, the Cyclones were staring at a deficit after the first few matches played and were able to come back both times.

Against the Bruins, the Cyclones fell and stayed behind in the opening doubles matches, not winning a set in any of the three as UCLA put the first points on the board. The Bruins continued their momentum into singles play, as Naklo fell at No. 1 singles to No. 94 Fangran Tian 6-1, 6-2. Anna Supapitch Kuearum then fell to No. 42 Ava Cantazarite 6-4, 6-3, and the Cyclones were now looking at an 0-3 deficit.

That when’s the tide started to shift in Iowa State’s favor, with Kezuka putting the first points on the board for her team by taking the #6 match 6-2, 6-1 against Vagramov. Kajuru answered again for Iowa State with her win, and Cabezas took down Ong 7-6, 6-3. The win was suddenly within reach for the Cyclones, and they wasted time taking advantage of the opportunity.

Iowa State charged out against No. 10 Miami to take the doubles point. The singles are when the Hurricanes responded, as Kezuka and Kuearum both lost their matches early and Miami was now in the lead.

Cabezas too lost her match against Mia Mack 5-7, 4-6, and Iowa State was again on the brink of elimination. The heavy hitters then delivered, with Kadleckova, Naklo and Kajuru all delivering counterblows to the Hurricanes’ lineup and snatching the title away from Miami.

The seventh and deciding point has often gone in favor of the Cyclones in recent years. Over the last five seasons, Iowa State has gone 8-2 in matches that were decided by a 4-3 scoreline. This includes last season’s victory over then-42nd-ranked Wisconsin, when they trailed 3-1 after losing the doubles point but were able to climb back and eventually win thanks to late wins from Kuearum, Kezuka and Kadleckova.