Saia wins Big 12 Coach of the Year, four Cyclones earn All-Conference spots


Daniel Jacobi II

Head coach Boomer Saia prepares the Iowa State tennis team ahead of their matches against Drake University at the Roger Knapp Tennis Center on Jan. 14, 2023.

Adarsh Tamma, Sports Reporter

The Iowa State tennis team collected its share of the Big 12 conference’s end-of-season awards Friday, headlined by Iowa State head coach Boomer Saia winning Big 12 coach of the year.

Saia, who is in his fifth year at the helm of the Cyclones program, captured his second coach of the year award in the last three years, as he last won the award in 2021. In his tenure, the Iowa State program has experienced a rebirth, earning back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in the last two years to qualify for its first taste of postseason play.

This season, Saia and his players recorded, statistically, the best season in school history. Following the Big 12 Tournament, the Cyclones ended the regular season with a record of 18-5, tying for the second-most number of victories in school history. Iowa State also had winning records at home, on the road and at neutral sites, marking the first time since the 1984-85 season they achieved that feat.

The Cyclones rose to as high as fourth in the national polls this season and currently sit at the No. 12 spot. Dating back to the 2021 campaign, Iowa State is on a 27-week streak of maintaining its place among the nation’s best tennis squads, and finished this season’s conference dual schedule with a 7-2 record to earn the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. The record is the team’s best-ever mark in the Big 12, as well as the first winning record in conference play.

Four Cyclone players earned All-Conference honors, with all of them also being named individual champions at different positions.

Sophomore Ange Oby Kajuru was named the individual champion and First Team All-Big 12 at the No. 2 Singles spot, as well as No. 2 Doubles along with freshman Xinyi Nong. Individually she finished the conference season with a record of 6-2 and currently sits at 18-5 on the year. Nine of Kajuru’s wins came against nationally-ranked competition this year, a statistic in which she leads the team.

In doubles, the freshman-sophomore duo of Kajuru and Nong have provided a level of consistent success for the Cyclones all season long. In their first season together, the pair suffered just one loss in the Big 12, ending on a 7-1 run across their conference matches. 

Nong, in her first year as a collegiate tennis player, after joining the Cyclones in January, has a 15-2 record in doubles play. Nong and Kajuru’s pair of losses were to Georgia’s Mell Reasco and Meg Kowalski in the semifinals of the ITA Indoor National Championships, and then to Marlee Zein and Nicole Khirin of Texas in Big 12 action.

Sofia Cabezas captured her first individual conference championship by being named the No. 5 Singles Champion. The junior from Valencia, Venezuela, went 5-1 at the No. 5 spot and was also named to her first All-Conference Team at the No. 3 doubles spot with partner Miska Kadleckova. The pair also earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors.

The veteran duo made history last season when they became the first Iowa State doubles pairing to qualify for the NCAA Championships and ended the year ranked No. 85 in the nation. This year, the pair upped their game again and finished as the No. 3 doubles champion with a conference record of 6-2. At the No. 2 and 3 spots in doubles play, Iowa State is a combined 26-6 this year.

Kadleckova also garnered All-Conference Second Team Singles honors, adding the achievement to her freshman campaign in 2021 when she was also named to the Big 12’s Second Team. The Banska Bystrica, Slovakia native had a strong campaign across both singles and doubles for the Cyclones this year, finishing with at least 20 wins in both disciplines.

In singles play, Kadleckova clinched five of Iowa State’s victories this season and defeated seven ranked opponents. In the Cyclones’ final regular season match against Texas Tech, she set a new school record by registering her 27th doubles victory of the season and is in near tandem with Kajuru in that category, who has 26 doubles wins herself.

The Cyclones’ next match will be decided Monday, as the individual and team qualifiers will be announced in the NCAA’s Tournament Selection Show. The Selection Show will be streamed on the NCAA’s website at 5 p.m.