No. 10 Cyclones set to wrap up Big 12 road schedule against Mountaineers


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.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

The Iowa State tennis team will wrap up its road schedule Saturday with a dual match against the West Virginia Mountaineers. The No. 10 Cyclones will be looking to make it a record fifth conference win over the weekend and improve their standing in the Big 12 Conference with just three matches left.

As it stands, Iowa State (14-4, 4-2 in Big 12) is currently locked into a four-way conference title race with No. 11 Texas, No. 18 Oklahoma and No. 19 Oklahoma State, all of which have one loss in the Big 12. The Cyclones went 1-2 against those three teams, beating Oklahoma State for the first time in school history last weekend.

The Cyclones’ 4-2 win over the Cowgirls on March 31 broke a 49-consecutive match-winning streak dating back to 1976. Iowa State took control of the match by winning the doubles point, then won three out of the next five matches in singles play to record the win.

Sophomore Anna Supapitch Kuearum clinched the match for the Cyclones at the No. 4 spot, defeating the Cowgirls’ Martina Zerulo 6-4, 7-6. It was the fourth time that Kuearum clinched a dual for the Cyclones, as she won her second match in Big 12 dual play and third against a conference opponent after defeating Oklahoma State’s Kristina Novak during the fall season.

“I was crying at that time because I was so happy and felt so stressed that it was my match point,” Kuearum said on her win against Oklahoma State. “[I thought to myself] ‘If I cannot do it, the team is going to lose’. I was also kind of nervous because this girl clinched the match last year for them, and I thought to myself ‘I’m not going to let her beat us this time.’”

Junior Sofia Cabezas has also come through for the Cyclones down the stretch of this season, winning five out of her last six singles matches. Cabezas reached a career milestone, as she became the fourth Iowa State player this season to record at least 100 career victories.

The Valencia, Venezuela, native is currently 15th on the program’s all-time list with 104 wins across singles and doubles, sitting behind Chie Kezuka in 11th (115), Miska Kadleckova in ninth (120) and Thasaporn Naklo in sixth (137).

Cabezas and doubles partner Kadleckova went 1-1, defeating Oklahoma State’s Zerulo and Lucia Peyre before falling to the Sooners’ pairing of Julia Garcia Ruiz and Dana Guzman. Cabezas and Kadelckova are now 10-4 in dual-match play and have won four out of six in the Big 12.

Individually, Cabezas was able to finish one of her singles matches, as she defeated Oklahoma’s Emma Staker 6-3, 6-4 at the No. 6 spot in the Cyclones’ 4-1 loss to the Sooners. She has 10-5 record in 2023, having played 13 of her 15 matches at the No. 6 spot.

“I think on my part, maybe I didn’t play my best tennis, but I was fighting hard, competing for me and my teammates,” Cabezas said. “I think that I ended up playing decent tennis and just getting a win. In the other match on Friday, I couldn’t finish, but I think that I’ve been playing well, fighting hard and competing.”

For Iowa State head coach Boomer Saia, the win against Oklahoma State was a testament to the growth that his team has had over the past few years. Saia stressed the importance of winning the doubles point as being key to the Cyclones’ ultimate success in the dual.

“That was massive to carry momentum [into] singles,” Saia said on clinching the doubles point. “They had a great crowd, and to be able to start the match on the right foot, we did a great job carrying that into singles. If I had to point to one point that was big, it would be that doubles, and just starting off with that doubles, and we did a tremendous job carrying it through to that fourth singles match.”

On the court, the Cyclones have been dynamic when it comes to doubles play, as they have a 13-0 record in dual matches where they’ve clinched the doubles point. Iowa State has won a combined 23 matches at the No. 2 and 3 spots, garnering a winning percentage of nearly 80 percent.

Saia and the Cyclones have also been dynamic in their energy during play, from high-fives and fist bumps in big wins to cheering on their teammates during tight matches. Cabezas described the energy that she and her teammates play with as being something more than just winning a match.

“I think it comes from who we are as a team,” Cabezas said on the team’s energy. “At the end of the day, it’s more than tennis. When we cheer for each other and the passion that we have, it’s because we’re family, and it’s more than a simple match. We cheer for our sisters and our family, we really want each of us to get a win. Individually and as a team, we cheer so hard for each other because we care about each other.”

The Cyclones will be attempting to break another program mark Saturday, as a win over West Virginia would give them their fifth conference victory of the season. In a 6-1 win over Baylor a couple of weeks ago, Saia recorded his 14th Big 12 conference win, putting him first on the school’s all-time list.

Iowa State’s opponent in West Virginia comes into the matchup with a 1-6 record in the Big 12 and has seen the gauntlet of the conference’s best recently by facing off against Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in their last three matches.

The Mountaineers’ lone conference win came against Kansas State at home in early March. West Virginia defeated the Wildcats 4-2 in Morgantown in a pattern that is similar to what the Cyclones have done in their victories – put points on the board early by winning the doubles point, and then carry that momentum into singles play, where they won two-out-of-three at the No. 1, 2 and 3 spots to eventually clinch the match.

Saturday’s match will be another road test for the Cyclones, the final one in the Big 12 to make it five consecutive duals played away from home. Many of Iowa State’s biggest wins this season have come on the road, where they own a record of 12-2 compared to 2-0 at home.

“Of course we’re going to be tired, but I think we’re always ready to play,” Kuearum said about the Cyclones’ motivation in playing on the road. “Even though we’re tired, we still want to win.”

The Cyclones’ pursuit of a win on Saturday will come down to what Saia calls “the controllables.” The head coach’s philosophy of focusing on what his team brings to the court has resulted in trying to stick to the same game plan no matter the opponent.

“West Virginia is a much-improved program, and so going there will be no easy task,” Saia said. “I know that I’ve alluded to it many times before, but our approach can’t change, we’ve got to be the same. Attitude, effort and competitiveness are the three [things] that we really stress, and we’ve got to be able to bring that. Making sure that we give ourselves the best chance to win by rolling up our sleeves and just competing at the highest level.”

The opening serve between the Cyclones and Mountaineers is expected to start at 9 a.m. Saturday. Live stats can be found here.