Youthful Cyclones prepare for coming season despite NCAA regulations


Armando Espinosa, head coach of women tennis, is practicing with the Iowa State tennis players by throwing the tennis balls towards them to hit.

Ryan Leon

On a sweltering first day of September, the Forker Tennis Courts are filled with the sounds of pounding feet and the heavy breathing of exhausted players.

The ISU tennis team has recently begun preliminary practices for its upcoming 2015-16 season. The Cyclones started a few weeks ago and have tried to make significant progress despite NCAA regulations concerning offseason practice times.

“It’s really hard to see anyone emerge when we’re only allowed two hours to practice,” said ISU coach Armando Espinosa.

According to new NCAA regulations on practice time, athletes are allowed eight hours of conditioning time. This may seem like plenty, but the rules also state that while a team is out of season, “no more than two hours of the permissible eight can consist of individualized skill instruction.”

These new rules aren’t being used as an excuse by the Cyclones, who are happy to be back on the court.

“The team has really had great intensity throughout all of our practices,” Espinosa said. “Everybody’s bringing it and is really focused, but the quality is still not where we want it to be.”

The Cyclones will have plenty of time to improve their quality ahead of their first match at the Gopher Invitational on Minnesota’s campus Sept. 25.

One problem befalling the team this season is trying to replace some key seniors, namely former singles No. 1 Ksenia Pronina. Pronina graduated last year as Iowa State’s all-time leader in singles wins.

These seem like big shoes to fill, but the Cyclones believe they have the players necessary to make up for Pronina’s missing wins.

The clear prospect would be senior Ana Gasparovic. Gasparovic managed a winning singles record of 8-6 while battling a hand injury for most of the spring season in 2015.

“We always talk about getting better and getting more wins in the conference,” Gasparovic said. “I think the expectations will continue growing, and we will do everything we can to meet those expectations.”

While they believe they can make up the wins in the singles competition, the doubles matches are an entirely different animal for the Cyclones. Because of graduating seniors, the team is not returning any doubles pair from last season.

“It is hard to start from scratch,” Espinosa said. “It will be very challenging since doubles points are such an important piece to winning.”

The Cyclones have plenty of open spots in the lineup and could be forced to implement some of their incoming freshmen. The team added four true freshmen as well as one redshirt freshman. This new depth could be the difference between success and failure for the upcoming season.

“It’s really different to come in and be a part of a team like this,” said incoming freshman Maria Regina Espindola. “Everyone here really cares about one another, not only as players but as people. Whether you’re a freshman, [a] senior or [a] coach, we all work to make each other better.”

Even though it is the very beginning of the season, the general outlook is positive. The team is confident in its returning and new talent, as well as its coaching staff.

Iowa State will fill those holes and start to take shape in the coming weeks ahead of its first major test in Minnesota.