No. 6 Cyclones face another road test against Old Dominion


Daniel Jacobi II

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

Iowa State tennis is on the road again this week, as they are set to face off against Old Dominion on Saturday in Virginia.

The Cyclones scaled new heights in their last tournament, as they reached the semifinals of the ITA Indoor National Championships for the first time in school history. They finished the tournament with a record of 2-1, recording historic upsets against both Vanderbilt and Texas, the latter of whom were ranked No. 1 in the country at the time.

For their efforts, Iowa State is now up to its highest ranking in program history, tied for 6th in the nation with Ohio State according to the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) poll on Feb. 15.

The Cyclones were highlighted for their individual efforts, as junior Miska Kadleckova was named to the ITA’s All-Tournament Team at the No. 5 singles spot.

Kadleckova was 3-0 in singles play in Seattle, clinching the match against Texas and extending her winning streak to 12. She also garnered Big 12 Player of the Week honors, being the second player from Iowa State this season to win the award.

Head coach Boomer Saia sees the win against the Longhorns as par for the course as far as the conference season is concerned.

“The thing about the Big 12 is that it’s gotten so good and deep, that it’s a battle every single match,” Saia said. “I think that our schedule thus far has helped prepare us for what’s ahead. When we go down to Texas, or go to the Oklahoma’s, it just doesn’t get any easier. But, I do think we know what that needs to look like as far as how we compete, how we go about our own process. I think that we’ve prepared ourselves properly for those moments and being able to handle them.”

The Cyclones also relied on their underclassmen to step up in the Indoor Championships, with sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum and freshman Xinyi Nong both ending the tournament with winning records in doubles play. The pair will both feature for Iowa State this weekend against the Monarchs.

Kuearum, like Kadleckova, also had success in singles play for Iowa State in Seattle. In the loss to No. 3 Georgia in the semifinals, the Bangkok, Thailand native defeated No. 39 Mel Reasco to earn her fourth win of the season against a ranked opponent.

In doubles, Kuearum and senior Thasaporn Naklo have become the winning combination for the Cyclones. The pair teamed up at the end of the fall campaign in November, and have rattled off a 12-2 record since then, defeating two ranked opponents along the way. At the Championships, they posted a record of 2-1, providing victories in the Vanderbilt and Texas matches.

Kuearum said that the focus on her own match can sometimes shift elsewhere, due to all matches being played simultaneously, next to one another. She described those emotions during the match against the Commodores as “exciting,” and the dramatic finish around the final three singles matches of the dual.

“I always look at the scoreboard,” Kuearum said, laughing. “Sometimes [when] I can not focus, I look at it too much and I get excited. I saw that Chie [Kezuka] was still winning, and I thought ‘okay, I will fight and do my best,’ but I still lost [my match].”

While Kuearum has a year of collegiate tennis experience under her belt, Nong was the Cyclones’ newest signing in January.

The Wenshan, China native came to Ames with success in the doubles game from tournaments on the junior circuit. In 2018, she represented her country in the ITF World Junior Tennis Finals and reached the final of the J4 Nonthaburi tournament the next year in Thailand.

In her first season as a Cyclone, Nong has brought what Saia described as “A spark [and] energy level” to their dual-match play. She is currently 2-0 in singles play and has struck up a successful partnership with sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru at No. 2 doubles. They’re currently 3-1 as a pairing, with their first loss coming against Reasco and Meg Kowalski of Georgia last Sunday.

“It was exciting because it was my first time playing this game [at the collegiate level],” Nong said on her arrival into college tennis. “I was a little nervous, but more excited.”

Nong also spoke of the interest that she has in doubles tennis due to her experience in it from a young age.

“[Since] I was young, I like to play doubles,” Nong said. “I like to play doubles more [than singles], so I have more energy when playing doubles.”

Said stated that while he has no plans on changing the current partnership as of now, the message of versatility is stressed to all players.

“We’re going to ride this current lineup out, but I tell every single player to be ready,” Saia said. “That’s why we played with such different partners this fall to be ready for that experience if you have to switch gears and play with someone else. I think all of them know the standard of doubles, and we’ll just see where this takes us.”

Looking ahead to this weekend, Iowa State will be taking its 8-2 dual play record into Norfolk, Virginia against an Old Dominion team that qualified for Indoor Nationals last season.

The Monarchs have four seniors from last year on their current roster, two of whom are ranked nationally. They enter the matchup with a record of 4-1, having beaten Wake Forest on the road 5-2 on Feb. 5.

Tatsiana Sasnoukaya is Old Dominion’s top player, as she is currently ranked 25th in the nation in singles and 24th in doubles with partner Sofia Johnson.

The Belarussian was the catalyst for the Monarchs’ success last year as well, as she and Yuliia Starodubtseva became the top-ranked pair in the nation. The duo placed second at both the ITA All-American and Fall Championships, then continued their momentum into the spring campaign by reaching the round of 16 in the NCAA Championships and ending the year at No. 7 in the polls.

The Monarchs’ most successful singles player to start this season is Shahar Biran, who is 4-0 at the No. 3 spot. The senior had a strong finish to last spring, ending the year on a seven-match winning streak and helping the Monarchs repeat as Conference USA Champions.

This weekend’s matchup will be the second time that the Cyclones and Monarchs have faced off, with the last meeting turning out in Old Dominion’s favor. The Monarchs defeated Iowa State 5-2 in that encounter on Feb. 27, 2010, in Norfolk.

Saia stressed that the challenge of Old Dominion should not be taken lightly despite the Monarchs’ lack of national recognition to start this season.

“They are every bit as talented as some of the teams that we’ve faced already,” Saia said. “That will be an absolute battle, and we need to be able to prepare ourselves properly and handle that moment. That will not be an easy match at all, and we are preparing ourselves for an all-out battle.”

The Cyclones and Monarchs will face off at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center. Live stats of the match can be found here.