No. 4 Cyclones set to take on Iowa in Cy-Hawk matchup


Daniel Jacobi II

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

Iowa State tennis will face off against in-state rival Iowa in their final non-conference match of the season Friday. The Cyclones will play against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City for the first time since 2019.

The Cyclone program reached a milestone on Tuesday, becoming ranked No. 4 in the country according to the latest computerized poll by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Iowa State is the highest-ranked team from the Big 12, and one of two teams from the conference (No. 8 Texas) to be ranked within the top ten.

The new ranking is the fourth time this season that Iowa State has climbed up the national polls with a 5-2 record against opponents who qualified for last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Cyclones are currently 9-2 overall, having beaten No. 16 Old Dominion last Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia.

For head coach Boomer Saia, the team’s goals extend beyond the national polls.

“I just told them that we’re never going to be defined by our ranking, just on our attitudes and how we approach each match,” Saia said. “But I do also think that [for] the realist in me, you do have to take a step back and be excited for what you accomplish. If you’re ranked No. 4 in the country, you know you’re doing something right, and it’s a cool little feather in your cap.”

Last time out against the Monarchs, the Cyclones completed a near sweep of their opponents. Iowa State first went 2-0 in doubles to open the match and won three-out-of-four in singles to hand Old Dominion their second loss of the year.

Michaela Kadleckova was a strong point for the Cyclones last weekend, winning both of her matches in the 4-1 win over the Monarchs.

Kadleckova has not lost a match in singles so far this season and currently holds an 11-0 record in that department. The junior from Banska Bystrica, Slovakia has also taken her last two decisions on “double bagels”, completing a 6-0, 6-0 sweep of Alesya Yakubovich at the No. 4 spot. For her play, Kadleckova achieved a season-high ranking of No. 63 this week, jumping up 60 spots in the national polls.

Joining Kadleckova in strong singles play is sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru, who is currently 9-1 in dual matches at the No. 2 spot. Currently ranked 70th in the country, Kajuru has gone 16-3 in all singles matches for the Cyclones this season and has defeated the seven ranked opponents. She currently sports a team-best 0.842 winning percentage in singles as well.

Despite not having played a match together in dual play, Kadleckova and Kajuru entered the national rankings for the first time this season at No. 59 as a pair. During the fall campaign, the duo reached the round of 16 at the ITA All-American Championships and upset then-eleventh-ranked Miyuka Kimoto and Polina Kozyreva of Syracuse along the way.

In the last 16, the pair pushed Nell Miller and Amelia Rajecki of North Carolina State, who are currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, to a third set. It came down to the wire, but Kadleckova and Kajuru ultimately fell 8-10 in the “super-set” decider.

“They just kind of took that next step with their games,” Saia said on Kadleckova and Kajuru’s performances this season. “As far as confidence, as far as executing, and using their talent level to the fullest. They both have been tremendous competitors at their spots, and [it’s] obviously helped our team achieve really good results. The sky’s the limit for those two, they’ve done a great job.”

At No. 1 singles, senior Thasaporn Naklo has had an up-and-down season in terms of dual play. Naklo checked in at No. 54 in the national rankings on Tuesday, leading Iowa State’s singles department in that category.

Naklo enters Friday’s CyHawk matchup having gone through a competitive schedule of matches thus far. In her last seven matches played, five of her opponents are currently ranked within the top-60 singles players in the country.

The Bangkok, Thailand native has dropped her last three matches in dual play, losing to No. 19 Tatsiana Sasnouskaya of Old Dominion 0-6, 1-6 last weekend. She is currently 4-5 in dual play and 7-5 overall in 2023 after starting the season on a 6-0 run.

Naklo has also had a couple of highlights, as she took down Miami’s Alexa Noel, currently ranked No. 8, to help the Cyclones qualify for the ITA National Championships. Dropping the first set, Naklo stormed back and eventually won the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a three-setter.

Saia acknowledged Naklo’s competitive schedule and is looking forward to watching her continue to play against collegiate tennis’ best.

“We have so much faith in Thasaporn, she’s a tremendous player,” Saia said. “When she steps on [the] court, she can beat anybody, and it’s finding that level of consistency. Obviously, we want to win them all, but I think you have to take that step back and enjoy the process of everybody’s journey. I’ve been super proud of her responses when it hasn’t gone her way, and I think she’ll continue to do the same because that’s just the kind of kid she is.”

In doubles, Naklo and sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum have formed a formidable partnership for Iowa State, recently taking over at the team’s No. 1 spot.

First joining forces together in the middle of the fall season, Naklo and Kuearum are currently 10-1 as a pairing and entered the national rankings at No. 39 for the first time. The pair took down their third-ranked opponent of the season last weekend, beating 26th-ranked Sasnouskaya and Sofia Johnson 6-3.

“They play a very aggressive doubles, and so I think they do a tremendous job of pressuring their opponents and I think it takes a lot of them by surprise,” Saia said of the duo’s game style. “They do a great job of using their skills and their strengths to their advantage, and putting that in doubles. Along with [that], they’ve really enjoyed playing with one another, and there’s a level of fun and energy and intensity that they bring, and that corresponds with the results that they’ve had.”

The Cyclones travel to Iowa City having never beaten the Hawkeyes on their home court, a 26-match streak that stretches back to the very first meeting between the two schools in October of 1976.

During Saia’s tenure, Iowa State has won two out of the last three meetings, taking their 2020 and 2022 victories in Urbandale. The Cyclones are projected to start the same lineup as against Old Dominion last Saturday, with Naklo, Kajuru, Kuearum, Kadleckova, Sofia Cabezas and Chie Kezuka filling in the six singles spots.

The Hawkeyes are currently 4-3 and ranked No. 40 according to the latest ITA rankings. Friday’s match will be Iowa’s first at home since Feb. 5, when they beat Kansas State 4-1. They were previously on a three-match road trip, going 2-1 and dropping their most recent matchup to DePaul 4-3 on Tuesday.

In last year’s dual, Iowa State recorded a 4-0 sweep against their opponents. The Cyclones first took the doubles point thanks to wins at the top two spots, then had their No. 4, 6 and 3 players take the victory in singles. Kadleckova clinched it with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Michelle Bacalla to give the Cyclones their ninth all-time win over their in-state rivals.

Saia hoped that the winless record on the road against the Hawkeyes is “a huge motivator” for his team, pointing to the matchup as another test for the Cyclones.

“Iowa will be ready, they always play [well],” Saia said. “This matchup is a battle every time, and so there are no easy matches. We’re really focused on getting ready. Again like we talk about having that same approach, not making it bigger than it is but having the equal approach than any match this season. It’s easy to get up for, it’s the Cy-Hawk game, the biggest in our state, and if you can’t get motivated for that one, then there’s something wrong with you.”

The Cyclones and Hawkeyes will kick off their match at 5 p.m. on Friday at the Hawkeyes Tennis & Recreation Complex. A live stream of the dual can be found here, and live stats of each match can be found here.