Cyclones set to take on Sooners, Cowgirls in key Big 12 duals


Daniel Jacobi II

Thasaporn Naklo runs up towards the net to try and get to the ball during her match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

Iowa State tennis will continue its competitive Big 12 schedule this weekend, taking on another pair of nationally-ranked opponents.

The No. 10 Cyclones will face off against No. 17 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Oklahoma on the road, with the pair of duals marking the second consecutive weekend that they will play teams in the national rankings. Iowa State has played 10 teams that are ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) rankings, and are 7-3 this season against teams who reached the NCAA Championships last season.

Iowa State also returns its five entries in the ITA’s individual rankings, as the newest list will come out next week. The Cyclones currently have three players ranked in the singles poll and two pairs in the doubles rankings. As a team, the Cyclones are now in the national rankings for the 23rd consecutive week, a program record.

Last time out for the Cyclones was a competitive affair, as they faced off against Texas and Baylor on their respective home courts. Iowa State went 1-1, falling to the No. 9 Longhorns 6-1 before handing Baylor a defeat by the same scoreline.

Iowa State associate head coach Kenna Kilgo acknowledged the challenges that Texas presented, and how the team will use that as motivation going forward in the season.

“I genuinely believe that Texas beat us, it wasn’t necessarily anything that we did, they were just the better team that day,” Kilgo said. “I think we just kind of look at it as, ‘how can we get a little bit better going into Baylor, going into the Oklahomas this weekend?’”

In the win over Baylor, the Cyclones started off strong, winning the doubles point and then taking three singles matches at the No. 5, 3 and 4 spots to earn their third conference win of the season. Sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum clinched the dual by winning her match against Daniella Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4.

Kuearum’s win came as a rebound to her loss against Texas’ Taisiya Pachkaleva two days prior, losing in a tough three-setter. After losing 7-6 in the first set, Kuearum leveled things up in the second by winning another tiebreaker by a 7-2 scoreline. Pachkaleva controlled the decider and won the match 6-3 in the third.

Kuearum, senior Thasaporn Naklo and junior Sofia Cabezas all won matches against the Bears to give the Cyclones the win. Kilgo talked about the importance of being able to bounce back in those types of situations and how she and the coaching staff deal with their players in those moments.

“I think we just kind of hang our hats on attitude, effort and competitiveness,” Kilgo said. “I think all three of those players showed that in both of the matches.”

In the win over Baylor, Iowa State head coach Boomer Saia also won his 14th career Big 12 conference dual to break the school record. Saia now owns a career win-loss record of 58-35, with Iowa State currently having won a combined 43 matches in the last three seasons. That mark is the most since the period between 1985-1987, with Saia also trying to become the first coach in school history to lead his team to three consecutive NCAA Championships.

Kilgo has been with the head coach every step of the way, with the pair both arriving in Ames in 2018. Prior to her start in coaching, Kilgo played college tennis at Texas Tech and was a standout for the Red Raiders by becoming the first player in program history to qualify for four consecutive NCAA Championships.

During her college career, Kilgo helped Texas Tech win a pair of Big 12 Championships in 2012 and 2013, as well as the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Team Championships in 2015. She finished her collegiate career with 75 wins in singles and 84 in doubles.

Since joining the Cyclones program alongside Saia, Kilgo has been recognized for her work in helping turn around the program that has now maintained its stay in the national polls. She was awarded the Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year award by the ITA in 2021 and 2022.

Kilgo spoke of the conversations that she and Saia had around her hiring, ultimately citing his planned shift in the program’s values as the reason that she joined the coaching staff.

“When he was looking to hire me, he had a vision of how he wanted this team to grow and all of the things that are his core values of how to build a program,” Kilgo said. “It was something that I bought into; I saw exactly the same things that he saw. To watch it play out as it has is really, really cool. I think that he is one of the most genuine, caring guys that I’ve ever met. Just the success that he’s having, the records that he’s breaking, it’s just really cool to just be a part of it.”

The Cyclones’ next pair of opponents, similar to Texas and Baylor, are both schools that they have never beaten on the road.

Against Oklahoma State, Iowa State is 0-49 in the series and nearly beat the Cowgirls last season at home. The Cyclones took the early lead by clinching the doubles point but had their hands full in singles play as Oklahoma State won four-out-of-five matches to eventually come out on top.

Iowa State will be looking to get on the board early again this weekend through their doubles game. Throughout this season, the trend has been that strong starts mean good finishes for the Cyclones, who are 12-0 in duals where they win the doubles point.

The Cyclones have two duos in the current doubles national rankings, and their No. 2 partnership of Kuearum and Naklo are ranked at No. 52 in the country. The pair have a 7-3 record in dual play and have won 14 matches overall this season since starting their partnership in November.

Iowa State is a combined 18-5 at the No. 2 and 3 spots in doubles play, with a near 78 percent winning percentage on those two courts.

Kilgo discussed the momentum that early doubles wins create for Iowa State, citing the players’ moods in warmups as a sign of things to come later on in the dual.

“Our biggest thing is our energy, and so we start that in the warmup,” Kilgo said about the team’s doubles strategies. “We have this power pose that we do to try to get everybody in the right minds. At the end of warmups we do this whole doubles drill, and you can tell by their energy, how loud they are, if we’re going to have a really good doubles point or not. Really, we just focus on our energy and being ready to go from the very first point, and I think if we do those two things, we have a pretty good doubles point.”

The series against Oklahoma has also been historically in the Sooners’ favor, as they hold a 47-1 advantage over Iowa State. The Cyclones’ lone win came in April of 2001, when they held on for a 4-3 win in Ames.

The Sooners and Cowgirls come into their matchups against Iowa State with two and five representatives in the national rankings respectively. In terms of the conference title race, Iowa State and its pair of opponents join Texas in the breakaway group to challenge for the championship.

Oklahoma State is a perfect 4-0 in Big 12 play and boasts a top-25 doubles duo in Raquel Gonzalez and Ayumi Miyamoto at the No. 21 ranking. Miyamoto faced off against Iowa State before this season, losing with partner Kristina Novak to Naklo and Kuearum 6-8. She and Gonzalez joined forces soon after and have found their stride during the dual campaign with a 9-1 record in 2023.

The Sooners have two doubles pairs ranked within the top-20, as No. 16 Carmen Corley and Ivana Corley, and No. 17 Alexandra Pisareva and Layne Sleeth helped them win 11 out of the last 15 doubles points.

The Cyclones have become “road warriors” this season, with 11 out of their 13 wins coming away from home. The trend is something that Kilgo hopes the team will continue to feed off of as the Big 12 slate continues.

“It’s almost weird,” Kilgo said. “I think we kind of consider ourselves a road team. All of our biggest wins have come on the road. I think we just have embraced that challenge of ‘hey, it’s just another day, we get to go play a tennis match,’ and not read into it too much.”

The Cyclones kick off their match against Oklahoma State at 5 p.m. Friday. Sunday’s matchup against Oklahoma has a start time of 11 a.m., with livestreams and updated stats for both duals being found here.