Cyclones try to ride momentum after great performance at Drake Jamboree


Jenna Reeves/Iowa State Daily

Sophomore Samantha Budai returns the ball during her singles match against Oklahoma on Feb. 22, 2015. Budai won her match, but the Cyclones lost 4-2.

Ryan Leon

Momentum has been a hot topic in sports. Does it really matter? Does it even exist? Whether you believe in it or not, the ISU tennis team is coming out of the Drake Jamboree with a lot of it.

The Cyclones finished strong at the Drake Jamboree over the weekend and looked dominant at times. They cruised to a combined 24-10 record for the tournament, but a positive record doesn’t mean the team is satisfied.

“I think we played pretty well, but left some matches out there,” ISU coach Armando Espinosa said. “It’s hard to argue when you have players going 8-0 and 7-1, but realistically we could have played better.”

The team did have a couple of players really shine at the tournament. Freshman Liza Buss finished the weekend a perfect 8-0 and junior Samantha Budai went 7-1. The pair were even more lethal together, finishing 5-0 in doubles play.

The pair of Budai/Buss has played well all season, but they finally seemed to hit elite status over the weekend. The tandem has only had one loss the entire season thus far, and they don’t look like they will be slowing down anytime soon.

The success of the pair shouldn’t come as a surprise for the Cyclones considering both players’ background in doubles. Budai has been a fixture on the number one doubles lineup since she came to Iowa State, teaming up with former top player Ksenia Pronina. Buss also has an incredible pedigree of doubles success even though this is her first season of NCAA tennis.

Buss came to Iowa State with a number of accolades, especially in doubles. She won the International Tennis Federation (ITF) 18U Doubles tournament in 2014 and was the runner up in the 18U Doubles Russian National Championship.

“She picks it up really quickly,” Budai said, “She knows instinctively where to move and how things work in doubles. We really haven’t had to teach her a lot, and that has definitely helped.”

While the doubles was tremendously successful, the Cyclones got surprising results out of senior Anna Kuuttila in singles play. Kuuttila finished 7-1, and has asserted herself into the conversation for the No. 1 singles position.

Kuuttila’s talents shouldn’t be a surprise either considering her experience. She was a four-year player at New Mexico where she graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Kuuttila decided to take a year off after graduating where she devoted her time to coaching tennis.

Kuuttila realized she couldn’t stay away from being on the court, so before the 2015 season, she enrolled at Iowa State as a graduate student.

“After not playing and spending my time coaching, these first couple months have been me trying to get back in the swing of things,” Kuuttila said. “And after this last tournament, I feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be, and it feels really good,”

Because of the time she spent coaching, Kuuttila thinks she can bring a unique viewpoint to the team and try to help all the players to grow in their game.

Even with all these positives coming out of the Drake Jamboree, the Cyclones had one major issue concerning their team. Espinosa wanted to try and solidify his lineup for the coming season but was unable to do so because of disciplinary issues and a key injury.

The Cyclones went through the tournament without freshmen Annabella Bonadonna and Regina Espindola, who didn’t travel with the team because of disciplinary reasons. They also were without top returning singles player, Ana Gasparovic, who has been battling a wrist injury all season.

“The disciplinary issues really affected our ability to make decisions on the lineup,” Espinosa said. “The issue is what it is, but it also provided a great chance for some players to step up and play at a different level than they’re used to.”

The Cyclones will use this experience to try and prepare for a quick turnaround ahead of this weekend’s tournament in Daytona, Fla. This will be a very different experience for the Cyclones, who had more than a month in between their last tournament.

“It was our plan all along to give them a long layoff in between the first tournament, so they could hone their skills and fitness level and try and get their games close to perfect,” Espinosa said. “These two weeks, we just hope we are in good shape both mentally and physically to play two good weeks of tennis.”