Three things to look for as tennis heads into the Big 12 schedule and beyond

Iowa State head coach Armando Espinosa watches the Cyclones at their match against Kansas at the Forker Tennis Courts on April 10, 2016. ISU fell 4-2.

Andrew Smith

The 2017 spring season has been a pleasant surprise for the Cyclones, as they find themselves with the best start in season history at 15-2.

The season started with a few hiccups, as the Cyclone lost two matches. But they have rebounding, going on a 12-match win streak. 

Here a few things to look for once the bulk of the Big 12 play begins this weekend in Kansas.

The program appears to be in good hand with the younger players

In the fall season, coach Armando Espinosa used tournaments as a way to build experience up for several of the team’s younger players.

This strategy appears to be paying off, as several of the programs younger players have found a foothold in the lineup.

Maty Cancini, a freshman, won a tournament earlier in the fall season. She hasn’t looked back, tallying a 7-4 record in singles, including a statement game when she filled in and won at the one spot against New Mexico State.

“Going into number two and one spot in doubles and singles is tough,” Espinosa said. “She’s answered the call so far.”

It doesn’t stop there. Margarita Timakova, another freshman, has quietly gone 10-1 and is on a five-game win streak.

Regina Espindola has been phenomenal for the Cyclones in singles. She has gone 12-1 so far this season and is joined in her success by Annabella Bonadonna as well as Erin Freeman.

Bonadonna has gone 9-3 this season in singles and 11-4 in doubles. Erin Freeman has also been a solid spot in singles, going 7-3.

“We are a young team,” Freeman. “We only have two seniors and no juniors so I think the fact that we have these freshman stepping up and even sophomores just stepping up and not being afraid to learn and grow, it’s just what the program needs.” 

Budai’s last season

Samantha Budai, a senior from London, Ontario, has been a staple in the Iowa State lineup over the past few seasons. 

And for good reason. 

“She is probably going to be the most decorated tennis player to play at Iowa State so far.” Espinosa said.

Budai has been the undisputed No. 1 player for the Cyclones this season, going 7-2 in singles and 11-4 in doubles with her partner Cancini.

Budai is also on track to top several of the program’s all-time records. 

She is one win away from becoming Iowa State’s all-time wins leader in doubles and 19 singles wins away from becoming Iowa States all-time leader in singles wins. She is also 17 wins away from becoming Iowa States overall =all-time wins leader.

Budai has been stellar for the Cyclones ever since her first year on campus, when she was slated at No. 2 in singles and went 10-9 on the season.

Budai has put together several steady seasons for the Cyclones over the years, but it’s not all about what she does on the court that matters. In the come-from-behind win over New Mexico State, she provided a spark on the sidelines.

“She helped on the sidelines,” Freeman said. “She brought up the energy and it really helped us put together a win.”

Budai and the Cyclones still have several meets left at home and it will surely be a bittersweet ending when one of the best players to ever do it laces up her shoes one last time.

The program has been on the rise

The Cyclones put together a winning season last year. They look well on their way to another one with a 15-2 start.

With the program under Espinosa’s guidance, and if the players continue to develop, the team could reach heights its never had.

“It’s trending upwards, we’re not losing matches we shouldn’t lose,” Espinosa said. “We haven’t had a bad loss this season.”

The Cyclones still need to get some more Big 12 wins under their belt in order to truly call the program on the rise.

“I think we have made huge strides forward this year.” Freeman said. “I think its nothing but forward progress from here.”