No. 11 Cyclones set to face No. 28 Jayhawks in Big 12 Tournament


Daniel Jacobi II

Iowa State goes up against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Iowa State tennis will step into post-season play on Friday, as they open the first round of the Big 12 Tournament against Kansas.

The No. 11 Cyclones are enjoying their best season in program history under fifth-year head coach Boomer Saia, backed by a 17-4 record and several record-breaking team and individual victories. Iowa State was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation earlier this year and earned first-time victories against teams such as Texas, UCLA, Miami and Oklahoma State.

Iowa State finished 7-2 in conference play, capping it off with a 4-0 win over West Virginia on Tuesday. The match saw the Cyclones complete their seventh sweep of an opponent this season, a new school record.

With that win over the Mountaineers, the Cyclones earned the No. 3 seed in this year’s Big 12 Tournament. Iowa State earned a tiebreaker over 18th-ranked Oklahoma State, who also finished 7-2, by virtue of beating them in their head-to-head matchup on March 31. The 4-2 win over the Cowgirls was the first time that Iowa State had won in Stillwater.

The Cyclones will be looking to get their ninth win against a top-50 opponent Friday when they face off against the No. 28 Jayhawks. Kansas finished the regular season with an overall record of 14-6, which included an eight-match winning streak from the end of January to the beginning of March to rise up to as high as 13th in the national polls.

That winning streak came to an end at the expense of an Iowa State win, as the Cyclones overpowered their opponents on March 10 to record a 6-1 victory. The victory saw then-10th-ranked Iowa State pick up its first conference win of the season.

Junior Miska Kadleckova dominated in that matchup, winning her singles and doubles matches to help the Cyclones improve to 11-2. The 6-4, 6-0 win against Kansas’ Carmen Roxana Manu was the 25th of her career in playing at the No. 3 spot, setting a new program record in that category. Kadleckova now owns a singles record of 26-8 this year and sits ninth on the school’s all-time leaderboard for career wins.

The Cyclones have a deep lineup across the board, with five of their six players having winning records in dual play this year. Iowa State is well represented in the individual national rankings as well, with two singles and three doubles entries.

Iowa State’s top two singles players maintained their places in the national polls this week, with senior Thasaporn Naklo (No. 67) and sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru (No. 78) both being included among the top 100 players in the country. The pair have a combined record of 25-10 in dual play and have defeated 15 nationally-ranked opponents between them this year.

Kajuru and Kadleckova have constituted double trouble for their opponents this season, as both have records of 16-3 coming into the postseason. While Kajuru has the entirety of this year playing at the No. 2 singles spot, Kadleckova has split time with teammate Anna Supapitch Kuearum between the No. 3 and 4 courts. She has posted a perfect 9-0 win at the No. 4 spot and is one of three Cyclone players to have an undefeated record on a court.

Naklo is currently on a “Last Dance” of sorts in terms of her collegiate tennis career, as she will graduate next month. Naklo, along with fellow seniors Chie Kezuka and Christin Hsieh, have helped constitute a turnaround for the program, as they were all a part of the team’s first two trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 and 2022.

Individually, Naklo will leave Iowa State as one of the most decorated players in the program’s history. The senior sits within the top five on the all-time wins list and was the first individual to qualify for the NCAA Championships last season. Naklo’s win against West Virginia’s Camilla Bossi on Tuesday was the 140th of her collegiate career as well as her 73rd in singles play. Over her four years at Iowa State, she has defeated 20 nationally-ranked opponents.

In doubles, Naklo and Kuearum have a record of 8-4 together this year. The pair teamed up for the first time at the end of the fall season and have since spent the dual campaign playing at the No. 1 spot, where they are 6-4. Tuesday’s national poll yielded their highest ranking as a partnership, as they are now 52nd in the nation.

This year’s Big 12 Tournament will also mark the first taste of postseason play for freshman Xinyi Nong, who, along with partner Kajuru, is ranked 64th in the country. Nong, who joined the Cyclones at the start of this year, has gotten key wins for her team in her first semester of collegiate tennis.

Nong and Kajuru have lost just twice this year when playing together and have gone 1-1 against national competition. The pair defeated Oklahoma’s Layne Sleeth and Alexandra Pisareva earlier this month for their first-ranked win.

Iowa State has been supported by its strong doubles play all season long, with all three pairs having winning records in dual play. The Cyclones are 16-0 in matches where they have won the doubles point and have won over 80% of their matches on the No. 2 and 3 courts.

Kadleckova and junior Sofia Cabezas provide postseason experience for the Cyclones at the No. 3 spot, as the pair qualified for last year’s NCAA Championships together and finished the season ranked 85th in the nation. This year, Cabezas and Kadleckova are 12-4 together in dual play, with Cabezas setting a single-season record by earning her 27th victory of the year last weekend against Texas Tech.

Kansas will be highlighted by play from senior Malkia Ngounoue and freshman Heike Janse Van Vuuren. As a doubles pair, the Jayhawk duo currently sit at No. 51 in the national rankings, posting a 12-5 record during the regular season. The pair went 2-2 against ranked competition, earning wins over Ngounoue, a three-time All-Big 12 selection, having been named to the conference’s Singles Second Team last year. Ngounoue biggest win this year was during the fall season when she took down South Carolina’s Sarah Hamner in the opening round of the NC State Championships.

Hamner came into that match as the No. 2-ranked player in the nation and had won the ITA All-American Championship as a freshman the previous year. Ngounoue battled through a three-setter to get the victory, defeating Hamner 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Ngounoue also faced off against Iowa State a couple of times before the spring season, going 1-1 against Cyclone players in the fall. She defeated Kadleckova 6-3, 6-3 and lost to Naklo 3-6, 1-6 in November, with both matches happening at the end-of-season Fall Series Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Iowa State and Kansas will kick off at noon Friday at the Jayhawk Tennis Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Live stats of the match can be found here.