Cyclones take highest ever ranking into Starkville vs. Bulldogs, Tigers


Daniel Jacobi II

Iowa State practices receiving a ball close to the net before their matches against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

The Iowa State tennis team (4-1) will be back on the road this weekend for a pair of matchups against Mississippi State and Memphis in Starkville, Mississippi.

The Cyclones are currently riding a wave of success, as they were awarded a new ranking of 14th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) on Wednesday, the highest in program history. The team jumped up 10 spots from 24th in the list and is, alongside No. 1 Texas and No. 14 Oklahoma, one of three teams from the Big 12 to be ranked within the top 15.

That new ranking comes on the heels of a successful weekend in Miami, where the Cyclones won the ITA Kickoff Tournament by defeating both No. 18 UCLA and No. 10 Miami back-to-back to record the highest-ranked upsets in school history.

Against the Bruins and Hurricanes, the Cyclones were on the brink of elimination but fought back to overturn 3-0 and 3-1 score lines, respectively, to win 4-3 on both occasions. Iowa State won out thanks to a number of moments across the board, with Miska Kadleckova earning her 100th win and clinching the match against the Bruins.

“There were some amazing moments [this past weekend], we had different people step up in different ways,” said head coach Boomer Saia on his team’s performances. “…From the doubles against Miami to Thasaporn Naklo in the singles against Alexa Noel, what a championship performance from her. I think if you look down the row, it was such a group effort.”

If that wasn’t enough, Iowa State has now extended its streak of being ranked in the top 25 to 16 consecutive weeks stretching back to last season. The last time they were ranked within the top 20 was in March of last year after having beaten Wisconsin and Memphis, both ranked within the top 50 at the time, in back-to-back duals.

With their ticket now punched for the ITA Indoor National Championships in a couple of weeks, the Cyclones will travel to Seattle to compete against 15 of the nation’s best squads. All 16 teams, including the Cyclones, qualified for last year’s NCAA Team Championships, with the semifinalists of Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford and Duke all in the mix as well.

Before that tournament, however, the Cyclones’ next challenge will be yet another road trip, this time down south for the first time this season. The Cyclones will face off against a Mississippi State team that is 6-0 to start the year, last handing Tennessee State a 7-0 loss.

The Bulldogs currently sport one player in the ITA’s individual national rankings, with sophomore Maria Rizzolo listed at No. 61 according to the most recent list from November. She comes into the match with a record of 7-3 on the season, having won her last match at No. 4 singles against Tennessee State’s Aroa Castillo 3-6, 6-1, 10-6. Emma Antonaki, their No. 1 singles player, is on a six-match winning streak to start the year.

It will be the first time that the Cyclones and Bulldogs will have met on the tennis court, meaning that three out of the last four matches the Cyclones have played in have been inaugural meetings.

For Saia, the next few weeks may look to be a hectic one, but the coach is looking to take things one at a time in terms of the season schedule.

“It’s going to be [a] really tough [couple of ] battles down there,” Saia said, “I think we have to get ourselves ready for those next two matches; get ourselves emotionally ready, physically ready, and be ready to compete just as hard as we did last weekend.”

The Tigers come into this weekend’s slate with a record of 1-4, but upset No. 55 Columbia 4-2 last Saturday to advance to the ITA Kick-Off Championship. They were swept 4-0 by No. 9 Pepperdine in the final.

In that win against the Lions, Memphis took advantage of the tie early, winning the doubles point by taking two out of the first three matches played. In singles, Columbia bounced back and led 2-1 after winning the No. 5 and No. 6 singles matches, but the Tigers held their nerve and won three out of the remaining four to take the victory.

Saia hopes that his team will use the next set of duals to build upon their recent success, something that only seems to get more and more prevalent as the calendar slowly turns toward the conference season.

“I think it’s taking the next step with our games, improving upon what we did this weekend, learning more about our strengths and how do we enhance those,” Saia said, “We just took big steps, but we can’t just look to maintain or sustain, we’ve go to continue to grow and take steps this week in practice as well as in the matches.”

Iowa State will take on the Bulldogs at 11 a.m. Friday, and then face off against Memphis on Saturday at noon. Both matches will take place at the Rula Tennis Pavilion. A live stream of both matches can be found here.