Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones bow out to Sooners


Daniel Jacobi II

Sofia Cabezas receives the ball close to the net during her match against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Iowa State tennis bowed out of the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday evening, losing in a thrilling match to Oklahoma 4-3. The No. 11 Cyclones were on the cusp of victory in the final match but could not convert their final game into a win as the 18th-ranked Sooners advanced to their second consecutive Big 12 Championship.

Saturday’s matchup at the Jayhawk Tennis Center in Lawrence, Kansas, marked a rematch from April 1 between the two teams. Oklahoma won that encounter by a score of 4-1 on its home court, but Iowa State rebounded from the loss to finish with a 7-2 record in the Big 12 Conference for their best performance in school history. Iowa State was trying to reach its first Big 12 Tournament final in school history, having fallen at the semifinals stage in the last three years.

The Cyclones and Sooners battled through nine tense matches Saturday, with the dual ultimately coming down to a handful of games in the final match left on court. Iowa State started things off by winning the doubles point but were beat by Oklahoma in singles play.

Five out of the six singles matches went to a deciding set, and there were a couple of tiebreakers to decide a set in a couple of those matchups. Iowa State won at the No. 4 and 6 spots, but lost in the ranked head-to-heads on courts 1, 2 and 3. Saturday’s matchup was the fourth time that Iowa State was pushed to the seven matches and the first time that they lost in the decider.

Kadleckova and Cabezas clinch doubles on tiebreaker

Iowa State and Oklahoma kicked things off in doubles play, as the Cyclones got the first point on the board by winning two out of the opening three matches.

Sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru and freshman Xinyi Nong struck first, getting a win off of Alexandra Pisareva and Layne Sleeth by a 6-3 scoreline. The Cyclones duo were gunning for their second win of the season over their opponents, as they had defeated them 6-4 in the previous meeting.

The win pushed 64th-ranked Kajuru and Nong’s winning streak to seven matches and improved their record to 13-2 on the year. Kajuru now owns a 25-9 record in doubles play this year and has a “double-double” of winning at least 20 matches in both singles and doubles.

Oklahoma responded on the No. 1 court, as the Cyclones’ Thasaporn Naklo and Anna Supapitch Kuearum faced off against Carmen Corley and Ivana Corley. The No. 10 Sooners duo proved victorious, as they took down 52nd-ranked Iowa State 6-3. The Corley sisters made it 2-0 in the season series over Naklo and Kuearum, who had lost on a tight 5-7 scoreline the last time these two pairs played each other.

That left the fate of the doubles point in the hands of juniors Miska Kadleckova and Sofia Cabezas, who were trying to earn their 19th win together this year. The NCAA qualifiers from last season faced off against Julia Garcia Ruiz and Dana Guzman in the decider.

The No. 3 match was undecided until late and had to be decided on a tiebreaker, first duo to score seven points winning out. Playing in their first tiebreaker of the season, Kadleckova and Cabezas held their nerve and were able to inch ahead of their opponents. The Cyclone duo won on a 7-3 scoreline, as Iowa State won its 19th doubles point of the year.

In ultimately winning the dual meet, Oklahoma broke the Cyclones’ streak of having never lost a match when clinching the doubles point. Iowa State was 17-0 before their loss to the Sooners in that category and held a 1-4 record in matches where they were unable to get the first point of the match.

Back-and-forth they go

Oklahoma responded in singles play at the No. 1 spot, as No. 52 Sleeth beat No. 67 Naklo in straight sets. The Sooners senior got the better of Naklo for the first time this year, as their previous match had gone unfinished.

Naklo’s partner, Kuearum, gave Iowa State the lead again by taking her match at the No. 4 spot. Naklo took the opening set against Pisareva comfortably, 6-2, but the Sooner senior responded with strong play in the second frame. Pisareva tied things up on a 6-1 scoreline, sending the match to a deciding third set.

Once again, Kuearum responded for the Cyclones, racing out to an early lead in the decider and never looking back. The sophomore’s 6-2, 1-6, 6-2 victory put the advantage back in Iowa State’s court, with the score now 2-1.

The Sooners quickly tied it again, thanks to Garcia Ruiz getting a victory off of Cabezas on Court No. 5. Cabezas fell behind, 5-7, to Garcia Ruiz but blanked her opponent on a 6-0 set. In another decider, it was Ruiz who was able to produce the winning strokes as she cruised past Cabezas to take the third set on a 6-2 scoreline.

Oklahoma built on Ruiz’s win with another victory at the No. 3 spot. The Sooners made it 3-2 in their favor as Carmen Corley upset Kadleckova. The Cyclones player lost the first set 4-6 but fought back in the second to win it 6-4. The third set was equally tense, as Kadleckova and Carmen Corley traded games early on.

The score was tied twice at 2-2 and 3-3, but Carmen Corley eventually pulled ahead to make it 4-3. That one game differential proved to be crucial for the Sooners, as Kadeckova was unable to make up for the deficit from that point forward. Carmen Corley won the third set 7-5, giving Oklahoma the lead for the first time all evening.
Iowa State’s counterpunch came in the form of senior Chie Kezuka, who won her ninth match of the season at the No. 6 spot to push the score to 3-3. Kezuka, who won the No. 5 Singles Big 12 Individual Championship last year, won a gutsy three-setter to push Iowa State forward.

Kezuka took the first set against Emma Staker thanks to a clutch play in the tiebreaker. Kezuka won by a score of 8-6 to get the initial advantage. The second set saw Staker respond, as she gradually pulled away to take it 6-1.

In the decider, Kezuka won the opening game and never trailed, eventually building up a 4-1 advantage. The senior won the third set 6-1 and put Iowa State back level with Oklahoma. The win was also the first time all season that Kezuka had defeated a Sooners player, as she was 0-2 against them beforehand.

Kajuru drops heartbreaking deciding match

The fortunes of both teams now rode on the backs of Kajuru and Guzman, as both players battled deep into the night to decide who would advance to the semifinals. No. 78 Kajuru took the early lead by serving up a bagel on No. 93 Guzman to win it, 6-0.

Kajuru was the Cyclones’ best player during conference play, finishing the Big 12 season with a 6-2 record. Kajuru has played all of her matches at the No. 2 spot and entered the matchup against Guzman with a 5-1 advantage in matches against nationally-ranked talent.

Kajuru, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Week, had a more difficult time in the second set to establish a break-away lead. The set eventually went to a tiebreaker, and Guzman won it on a 7-5 scoreline to set up a deciding set for all of the marbles.

In the third, Kajuru took the opening game for an early 1-0 lead. Momentum shifted between both players, and eventually the score stood 2-3 in favor of Guzman. Kajuru tied things up at 3-3, with Guzman again countering in the very next game to pull ahead, 4-3.

Eventually, Kajuru was able to gain the advantage at 5-4 and stood within one game of clinching the match and sending Iowa State to its first Big 12 Championship. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Guzman was able to once again fight back for the lead, going on a 3-0 run to win it for the Sooners.

The final set, won 7-5 in favor of Guzman, saw four lead changes over the last eight games played, as Kajuru lost in a heartbreaker. The Iowa State sophomore has won nearly 80% of her matches this year and now sits at 24-6 for an overall record.

Guzman’s win marked the first time all year that Iowa State has lost singles matches at the No. 1, 2 and 3 spots. The top half of the Cyclones’ lineup has consistently provided wins throughout the year, with Kadleckova and Kajuru each winning 16 matches in 2023. Naklo is now 4-5 against nationally-ranked opponents, with those nine matches constituting over a quarter of her schedule of matches this season.

The Cyclones will have to wait to see when and where they will play next, as their next opponent lies in the NCAA Tournament. The Selection Show will be streamed live on the NCAA’s website at 5 p.m. May 1.

The Sooners will have a chance to avenge last season’s tournament final loss to Texas, with the title game kicking off at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Jayhawk Tennis Center.