Cyclones set to take on Jayhawks, Wildcats in Big 12 doubleheader


Daniel Jacobi II

Thasaporn Naklo gets into position as her teammate serves the ball during their match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

Cyclone tennis will be back on court as they kick off the conference season with a pair of matches at home.

No. 10 Iowa State will open its home schedule against No. 13 Kansas Friday and match up against Kansas State Sunday. The Cyclones beat both teams on the road last season, defeating the Jayhawks 5-2 on their home court for the first time in school history.

The Cyclones had a strong non-conference campaign, breaking into the top 10 in the country for the first time in program history, by beating four teams ranked within the top 25 in the span of two weeks. The run was capped off by a historic run to the semifinals of the ITA National Championships, where Iowa State defeated then-top-ranked Texas for the first time in school history.

Iowa State head coach Boomer Saia, who has guided his team to a 10-2 record so far this season, stated that the duals over the weekend will be anything but easy.

“Every match that you play in the Big 12 is going to be a battle, there are no easy weekends,” Saia said. “Kansas is off to a really hot start, and so we’re going to expect a full battle on Friday.”

Last time out on court, the Cyclones swept in-state rival Iowa 4-0 in Iowa City Feb. 24. The Cyclones earned their first win over the No. 52 Hawkeyes on the road for the first time since 1976 and did not surrender a set across their four victories.

“That was a big one to end on before we started Big 12 play,” Saia said on his team’s win over Iowa. “It’s a place we’ve never really won before. I think we were extremely motivated and had a great crowd there, and to go beat your rival on the road is always one [win] that you’ll circle and star [on the calendar]. To get that W meant a lot to the team, because that’s not something that we had ever done as a group.”

Leading the way for the Cyclones in Iowa City was No. 4 singles player Miska Kadleckova. The junior from Slovakia has not dropped in singles play this year and has a record of 12-0 in dual play for the Cyclones.

Against the Hawkeyes, Kadleckova clinched the doubles point along with partner Sofia Cabezas and won again in her singles match, 6-1, 6-1 over Samantha Mannix. Kadleckova has also seen a rise in her personal ranking this season and checked in at 87th on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) latest poll Tuesday.

Senior Thasaporn Naklo endured a competitive non-conference season and ended the campaign with four losses in her last six matches played. The Bangkok, Thailand, native sits at a record of 4-4 in dual play and 15-8 overall this season. 

Naklo maintained her presence in the national rankings this week at No. 53. Going back to the fall season, Naklo defeated four ranked opponents so far this season, including No. 13 Alexa Noel of Miami in January.

Kadleckova, Naklo and senior Chie Kezuka all reached a career milestone of 100 career victories this season. Saia spoke of growth that he has seen in the trio throughout his coaching career at Iowa State.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Saia said. “They come in as freshmen and you go through all of these peaks and valleys, and you learn more about each other, more about yourself. It’s been incredible to watch them grow and really dive into who they are on and off the court. Watching their tennis grow and become more mature on court; them understanding their strengths and weaknesses more and just being more well-rounded competitors.”

In recent weeks, the “engine room” of the Cyclones’ lineup has been from its underclassmen players, as sophomores Ange Oby Kajuru and Anna Supapitch Kuearum and freshman Xinyi Nong have made strong contributions to their team’s success during the non-conference campaign.

Kajuru is the highest-ranked singles player for Iowa State and currently sits at No. 52 in the national rankings. She has enjoyed immense success in the solo category by defeating seven ranked players this season, tied with Kadleckova as joint-most on the team. The Tokyo native is 17-3 on the year and has won 12 of her last 13 matches, while shifting over to the No. 2 spot on the lineup.

In doubles, Kajuru and Kezuka are one of three Iowa State pairings ranked in the top 75, coming in at 37th in the latest poll. The duo have a 2-3 record in dual play, having last played together against Memphis in January. They lost on that occasion to Tigers’ Emily Meyer and Aran Teixido-Garcia 2-6.

Since then, Kajuru and Nong have joined forces, and it’s gotten results for the Cyclones so far. The pair own a 4-1 record and provided a win against the Hawkeyes at the No. 2 spot by beating Samantha Mannix and Pia Kranholdt 6-1.

In singles, Nong has a perfect 2-0 record since joining the Cyclones team at the beginning of 2023. The Wenshan, China, native beat both of her opponents in straight sets, taking down South Dakota’s Selena Bird 6-0, 6-0 and Miriam Grosmann of Memphis 6-4, 6-1.

Saia praised the leadership that his upperclassmen have presented onto other members of the team; a trend that he said has been a constant in wherever his coaching career has taken him.

“Any program that I’ve been a part of, there has to be great internal leadership from the players, the juniors and seniors,” Saia said. “They lead by example in a lot of ways, so when they’re out on court and they’re competing at the highest level, they set that example really well. They’ve done a really good job of leading by example.”

The Cyclones’ next set of opponents in the Jayhawks and Wildcats will be coming into the duals having come from different paths. Kansas is 9-1 and currently on an eight-match winning streak, having last defeated No. 24 Old Dominion 4-3 March 5. The No. 13 Jayhawks have also taken four out of their last six decisions via sweep, as they defeated No. 75 Missouri and No. 44 SMU back-to-back by 4-0 score lines.

The Cyclones have seen a glimpse of the Jayhawks’ roster earlier this year, as both teams played at the Fall Series Championships in November. Cabezas has a perfect record against Kansas players this season, having beaten Carmen Roxana Manu twice, and Jocelyn Massey and Siliva Maria Costache once each during the fall campaign.

The player to watch for the Jayhawks is super-senior Malkia Ngounoue, who is currently their sole nationally-ranked player at No. 45 on the singles poll. Ngounoue is a three-time All-Big 12 Team selection and was named to the Singles Second Team last season.

This year, Ngounoue has been Kansas’ ace in singles, having played in the No. 1 spot for all of the Jayhawks’ dual matches. She has faced off against two of Iowa State’s players, defeating Kadleckova 6-2, 6-3  and falling to Naklo 3-6, 1-6 in back-to-back rounds of the ITA Fall National Championships.

Ngounoue is also one half of the Jayhawks’ No. 1 doubles pairing, partnering with freshman Heike Janse Van Vuuren. The duo are 6-2 in dual play so far this season, taking one of their losses at the expense of No. 2 Jaedan Brown and Kari Miller of Michigan.

Kansas State comes into Sunday’s matchup with a 2-10 record, having lost a tight match against in-state opponents Wichita State last time out. In that matchup, the Wildcats took the doubles point by winning two out of three and kept up with the Shockers’ comeback in singles to tie the score at 3-3. In the final match, Wichita State’s Jessica Anzo defeated Rosanna Maffei 7-6 (7-5) in the second-set tiebreaker to clinch the dual.

Saia said that his team is not taking the Wildcats lightly despite their showing thus far, and looks to have the same approach with every team in the conference.

“We’ve got to turn around and beat a kind of dangerous Kansas State team,” Saia said. “Don’t let their record fool you, there are some spots in there that are very difficult. They’re well-coached, so we will have two battles on our hands, and I think we welcome that competition; that’s what it’s all about.”

While Iowa State’s lineups for this weekend have not yet been announced, Saia said that his sights are not set so much on the game planning and scouting, but rather on controlling his own team’s variables.

“As much as you want to focus on that, I’ve taken a different approach over the years,” Saia said on scouting other teams. “[I’ve] really put a lot of effort into what we bring to the table, as far as our mentality, our approach to each match and kind of focus on us and our game styles. [We’ve] been trying to go in with the mindset that it’s on our terms and just set the bar the Cyclone way.”

The Cyclones and Jayhawks will kick off their match at 1 p.m. Friday and face off against the Wildcats at 11 a.m. Sunday. Both matches will be played at Lifetime Fitness Center in Urbandale. Live stats of the matches can be found here.