Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones enjoy dream run to ITA Indoors semifinals


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

For the first time in history, Iowa State tennis made a run to the semifinals of the ITA Indoor National Championships.

The Cyclones entered the tournament as one of the outsiders, unseeded and entered into a bracket that also included all four of the NCAA semi-finalists from last year’s national championships.

Iowa State contested tight matches in each round of the championships, eventually facing off against No. 5 Georgia for a berth in Monday’s final. The Cyclones were knocked out by the Bulldogs by a score of 4-2, but not before enjoying a wave of success in the previous two rounds.

The No. 14 Cyclones took down two of the nation’s top-10 teams in Seattle, first defeating No. 9 Vanderbilt 4-3 on Friday evening, before turning around and taking down top seeds Texas 4-1 on Saturday. 

The pair of back-to-back wins were the third and fourth-ranked wins of the season, and the victory over the Longhorns is now the highest-ranked upset in program history. The Cyclones’ previous matches against No. 18 UCLA, No. 10 Miami and the Commodores on Friday were all the previous record marks.

Kezuka comes in as closer

The Cyclones’ chances of winning against Vanderbilt were teetering on a fine line throughout the match and facing a 3-1 deficit, were on the brink of elimination.

Iowa State fought back, however, and senior Chie Kezuka eventually sealed the win in her match at No. 6 singles against Amy Stevens in dramatic fashion. She dropped the opening set 3-6, but climbed back level after reversing the scoreline in her favor during the second.

The third and deciding set saw both players have their chances to break ahead, and it was Stevens who eventually did, taking a 4-3 lead on her serve. Down once again, Kezuka responded by tying things up in the next game and then taking the lead at 5-4.

The match eventually went to a tiebreaker, with the first to seven points declared the winner. This time, Kezuka came out firing and built up a 6-1 lead to take it to match point. Stevens saved twice, but the third time was the charm for Kezuka. With a sharp forehand down the left-hand side, Kezuka forced Stevens to hit a high lob into the front court, which she easily put away to secure the win.

Friday’s singles win was the first time that Kezuka clinched a dual match for the Cyclones this season. The Japanese native has a history of coming up big for Iowa State in singles, as she went 18-1 for Iowa State in dual play last year. She also won the first individual Big 12 singles title in school history at the No. 5 spot, highlighting a season that saw her crack nearly 50 total wins.

Iowa State relied on its singles play to deliver big wins down the stretch on Friday. After taking the doubles point to start out, the Cyclones built on their lead through Ange Oby Kajuru, who was the first player to finish her singles match by upsetting No. 66 Anna Ross 6-1, 6-0. It was her seventh-career win against a ranked opponent.

The Commodores answered back with a pair of wins at the No. 1 and No. 5 spots to make the score 2-2. At the top spot, No. 34 Celia Belle-Mohr took control of the match against No. 43 Thasaporn Naklo, coming back after falling in the first set to win 1-6, 6-1, 6-1. Down the line, Sofia Cabezas lost to Annessa Lee 6-4, 6-3.

Vanderbilt then went 3-2 up at No. 3 singles, with 85th-ranked Holly Staff winning her match against Iowa State sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to avenge her doubles loss earlier in the day.

The tide now seemed to be shifting in favor of Vanderbilt as all eyes were on the two matches left on the court. At No. 4 singles, Miska Kadleckova fell in the first set 2-6 against No. 27 Bridget Stammel but fought back to take the second set on the same scoreline. The junior from Slovakia came out on top in the decider, taking the match 6-4 and teeing it up for Kezuka’s heroics.

Down goes No. 1

The Cyclones marched into the uncharted territory that was the quarterfinals on Saturday, as they took on the defending national champions and top seeds in Texas. The Longhorns entered the matchup with a record of 7-0, and had never lost to their opponents in a dual match.

Texas also had plenty of nationally-ranked talent in its wings, as four of its six players were included in the ITA’s latest top-125 players in the country. Stretching back to last year, the Longhorns had a 19-match winning streak in dual play, with their last loss coming in a 4-3 decision to Oklahoma on Mar. 27.

Iowa State jumped into control of the match early, as they won the doubles point for the second consecutive day. Naklo and Kuearum were the first to finish at No. 1 doubles, taking down Nicole Khirin and Charlotte Chavatipon 6-2. In the No. 2 slot, Kajuru and freshman Xinyi Nong won their fourth consecutive match together by defeating Taisiya Pachkaleva and Nicole Rikvin, 6-2.

In singles play, Texas countered and put their first point on the board at the No. 6 spot. Kezuka fell to No. 113 Marlee Zein, 6-2, 6-2.

From that point, however, it was all Cyclones, as Iowa State quickly flipped the script within minutes of Kezuka’s match finishing. Cabezas bounced back at the No. 5 spot from her loss on Friday to beat Rikvin 6-1, 6-4. The loss was Rikvin’s first since her opening match of the season, when she fell to Stammel 5-7, 1-6.

Kajuru won her eighth win against a ranked opponent by taking down No. 61 Chavatipon 6-2, 6-3 while extending her singles winning streak to 10 matches. The momentum was then placed in the hands of Kadleckova at the No. 4 spot, and she, like Kezuka the day prior, took the role of closer for her team.

Kadleckova took the first set against No. 69 Malaika Rapolu 6-3 and continued to the brink of victory at 5-2 (40-0) in the second frame. Now faced with three match points, Rapolu fought back to take a game off of Kadleckova.

Kadleckova did not back down when facing Rapolu’s serve, and again went 40-0 up. The last rally was played entirely from the baseline, with Kadleckova looking to force balls down the sidelines. When the final backhand lob from Rapolu fell out, the celebration was on for Kadleckova and the Cyclones.

Iowa State’s win was the first in 26 tries against the Longhorns in a series dating back to 1997.

Doubles point secured

The trend across all three of the Cyclones’ duals was the influence of doubles results on the outcome of the match. The team that registered the doubles point on the board went on to win.

Ange Oby Kajuru watches the ball after she hits it during her match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

Heading into the match against Georgia, Iowa State was 7-0 in matches where they won the doubles point, including the victories over Vanderbilt and Texas in the first two rounds. The Bulldogs were able to break through that one-two punch and won the doubles point thanks to strong play early in both matches.

At the top spot, Naklo and Kuearum fell in their first ever match as a pairing, as they were beaten by Guillermina Grant and Mai Nirundorn by a score of 6-2. Heading into the match, Naklo and Kuearum were 10-0 together on the season.

In the No. 2 doubles, the Cyclones ultimately surrendered the doubles point when Kajuru and Nong lost to Meg Kowalski and Mell Reasco 7-6. With the match tied up at 4-4, the duo from Georgia was able to break Kajuru’s serve at 40-30 and take the lead.

Kajuru and Nong leveled the scoreline at 6-6 thanks to a break point of their own, and the match went to a seven-point tiebreaker. At that point, Kowalski and Reasco were dominant, building a 5-1 lead before closing things out on a 7-2 scoreline.

That tiebreaker was the only one that the Cyclones faced in doubles play throughout the weekend. In the round of 16 against Vanderbilt, Iowa State pairs won their doubles matches by scores of 6-2 and 6-3 at the No. 1 and No. 2 spots respectively.

Iowa State now sits at a record of 8-2 on the year and will be back in action on Feb. 18 when they face Old Dominion.