Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones fall in dramatic fashion, historic season comes to an end


Daniel Jacobi II

Miska Kadleckova prepares to relay the ball back over the net during her doubles match alongside teammate Sofia Cabezas and against UCLA’s Fangran Tian and Anne-Christine Lutkemeyer in the third round of the NCAA D1 Women’s Tennis Championship tournament in Ames, IA, on Friday, May 12, 2023.

Christian Royston, Sports Editor

Iowa State put on a show in its first Elite Eight appearance, playing close with No. 4 NC State.

Although NC State jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, the Cyclones showed grit and battled back to put the match in the hands of Miska Kadleckova, tied up 3-3.

With one set between the Cyclones and the Final Four, the Wolfpack played spoiler on the day, securing a 4-3 win and knocking Iowa State out of the NCAA Tournament. With the limelight on the Cyclones, their historic season came to a close in dramatic fashion.

NC State strikes first

The Cyclones had their work cut out for them early in the doubles matches.

At the No. 3 spot, Kadleckova and Sofia Cabezas fell to an early 4-0 deficit against Sophie Abrams and Abigail Rencheli. With their backs against the wall, the Cyclone pairing fought back to take two of the next three sets, but NC State came out on top to take the first doubles match 6-2.

Meanwhile on court two, NC State’s pairing of Nell Miller and Amelia Rajecki struck first against Ange Oby Kajuru and Xinyi Nong. 

Kajuru and Nong fought back to take the second set, evening up the No. 2 spot. Riding the momentum from set two, they also took the third set to take a 2-1 lead against the No. 9 doubles pairing in the nation. 

However, that lead didn’t last long as Miller and Rajecki fought back to even up the match again at 2-2.

With the No. 1 and 3 spots struggling to keep up, Iowa State’s No. 2 spot was the star of the doubles matches, sitting one game away from securing one match for Iowa State. However, that match-point game wasn’t needed as NC State put the match away at the No. 1 spot.

Thasaporn Naklo and Anna Supapitch Kuearum started off the day at the No.1 spot against the No. 4 duo in the nation of Diana Shnaider and Alana Smith.

Naklo and Kuearum traded shots with Shnaider and Smith early on, but the NC State duo started to run away with the match. After being tied 2-2, the top-5 NC State pairing put the match away 6-3 to take the 1-0 lead over Iowa State.

Cyclones battle back from early singles deficits

NC State rode the momentum from the doubles win into the start of singles play taking an early lead on a majority of the courts.

In fact, the Wolfpack took the first leads at the No. 1, 2, 3 and 6 spots. 

Naklo had her work cut out for herself, taking on Shnaider on court one. After dominating the doubles match, Shnaider continued to put on the pressure, getting up 2-0 early in the first set.

Shnaider never let up throughout the first set, making quick work of Naklo with a 6-0 win.

A similar story played out at the No. 6 spot as Chie Kezuka fell to an early 4-0 deficit to NC State’s Gina Dittmann. Kezuka got points on the board in game five, but it was too little too late. Dittmann took the first set over Kezuka 6-2.

Despite the early deficits, Iowa State showed off its ability to get points from any spot on the lineup, taking leads on courts four and five. Kuearum and Cabezas took 3-0 leads in their sets.

Both Kuearum and Cabezas continued to smoke their singles opponents, continuing to build their leads. Cabezas took down Abrams 6-1 to give Iowa State hope at the No. 5 spot.

Rencheli battled back against Kuearum, but a 5-1 lead was big enough for the Cyclones to get another set in their favor with a 6-2 win in the No. 4 spot.

Kajuru battled back in the second game to even up the set 1-1. Taking the second game looked to be the momentum swing Kajuru needed as she battled through tough games to take a 2-1 lead. 

From that point on, Kajuru kept a lead throughout the first set, fighting for a 5-4 lead. However, Smith took the next game to even up the set 5-5. Kajuru didn’t waver and put the set away 7-5 to put the Cyclones up at the No. 2 spot.

The same story played out on court three as NC State’s Rajecki jumped out early over Kadleckova to get up 2-0. Kadleckova didn’t go down without a fight, securing the next game to get points on the board in her first set.

In the No. 3 spot, which looked to be anyone’s match, Kadleckova continued to fight tooth and nail for every point she could, bringing the set to even at 2-2. Soon after, she took her first lead, going up 3-2.

Kadleckova held onto a lead late into the set, sitting at 5-4. However, similar to the No. 2 spot, Rajecki evened up the set at 5-5. The two traded shots back and forth to even things back up 6-6.

Despite Kadleckova’s best efforts, Rajecki got the last laugh as she took the first set 7-6.

Cyclones fight to the very end

NC State took 3-0 leads at 1, 4 and 5 in the second singles sets. A Wolfpack win was in sight.

Shnaider didn’t let up on Naklo, sweeping Naklo 6-0. Naklo couldn’t figure out Shnaider all night, and that was the case in every game, as Shnaider didn’t drop a single point to Naklo giving NC State a 2-0 lead.

Cabezas took back control of her matchup at the No. 5 spot, mounting a 4-3 lead with four-straight wins. 

The energy from court five moved to court four for the Cyclones, as Kuearum also battled back from her early deficit to take the next four points. The Cyclones led 4-3 in two sets that could score them points.

As Kuearum built her lead to 5-4, Cabezas dropped to a 6-5 deficit. Cabezas needed a spark to get the Cyclones on the board.

Cabezas took the next point to force a tiebreaker. 

With Cabezas battling for a tiebreaker win, Kuearum got the Cyclones on the board first with a 6-4 win over Rencheli. The Cyclones trailed 2-1 to NC State, with more points on the horizon.

Cabezas followed Kuearum’s lead, making quick work of the tiebreaker to win 7-6 and give the Cyclones more points. The match evened up 2-2. Iowa State’s historic season laid on the shoulders of just three spots.

Despite dropping her first set 6-2, Kezuka started out hot in the second getting up 2-1 early over Dittmann. From that point on it was a war on court six. 

Kezuka traded points back and forth with Dittmann to edge out a 4-3 lead late in the set. Kezuka didn’t stop there, as she used her momentum to secure the second set with a 6-3 win and even up the match at the No. 6 spot.

Although the No. 2 and 3 spots were trailing early, Kadleckova fought back for a 3-2 lead in her second set. Meanwhile, Kajuru evened out her second set 4-4.

In the blink of an eye, Kajuru slammed her matchpoint past Smith to take the second set 6-4. 

Just like that, the Cyclones had a 3-2 lead. It was all down to courts three and six.

Kezuka was battling back from a 3-0 deficit but got on the board with the fourth point. From that point on, it was a grind to stay in the set.

Kezuka fell to a 4-2 deficit but took the next point to stay within one of Dittmann. Kezuka battled hard in an attempt to send the Cyclones through to the next round, but Dittmann’s lead was too big to overcome. Kezuka fell 6-4, and Kadleckova had the deciding match.

As was the case with the first set, Rajecki wasn’t going to give up easily to Kadleckova. With everything on the line, Kadleckova was all knotted up with Rajecki 4-4. If the Cyclones’ historic season were to continue, it was down to Kadleckova to battle at the No. 3 spot.

She did just that, taking the next two points to force a third set to decide the match.

With just one match between either team and the Final Four, Kadleckova struck first. 

Then Kadleckova took the next point to go up 2-0. Just four more points would send Iowa State to the Final Four.

However, Rajecki was looking to play spoiler, as she fought back in the final set. Rajecki not only evened up the set but took a 3-2 lead. Then that lead grew to 4-2.

But Kadleckova still had some fight in her. She brought the set back to 4-3. 

The back-and-forth fight to the end continued as Rajecki took the next point to go up 5-3. In the end, when all the lights were on the Cyclones, Kadleckova was close but ran out of steam at the end.

Rajecki wrapped up the match with a 6-3 win over Kadleckova. 

Just like that, the curtain closed on Iowa State’s historic season.