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Global organization has brought winning climate to Iowa State women’s tennis
Cyclones can reach first NCAA Championships in their 50-year history of women’s tennis with a Super Regional win over UCLA Friday
Iowa State has a home match Friday in the NCAA women’s tennis national tournament Super Regionals.
Home. That’s quite a concept for a team of eight players who come from an average of 6,349 miles from Ames, with all of them from another continent.
“You’ve got to have a village around you,” Cyclones Coach Vincent “Boomer” Saia said about his team, and his village is global. It’s also successful, more than at any time in the program’s 50-year history.
When No. 11 Iowa State hosts No. 20 UCLA in Friday’s 1 p.m. contest at the Ames High Tennis Complex, it will play for its first-ever berth in the NCAA Championships. This is the Cyclones’ third NCAA appearance, all in the last three seasons. It’s their first Super Regional.
Saia has two players apiece from Thailand and Japan, one each from China, Slovakia, Taiwan and Venezuela. A win Friday would have them traveling to Lake Nona, Fla., next week for those NCAA Championships.
ISU’s No. 1 player, Thasaporn Naklo of Bangkok, is qualified for her second-straight NCAA Singles Championships, to be held in Lake Nona the week after the team event.
Naklo epitomizes the program and how Saia has built it.
“You’re going and looking at some of the best Junior tournaments in the world,” he said. “I first saw Thasaporn at the U.S. Open. I was really, really impressed with her and tried to stay in touch with her.
“I think she was set on having a professional career, but then kind of switched gears and wanted to come to college. I think she could have gone to a lot of schools considering her playing background, but I think our relationship kind of helped persuade her to come to Ames.
“She’s stayed all four years. You see so many players leave in the transfer portal. It’s a crazy time. So I think that's what I've loved about our team. They've built something special and they want to continue to be a part of it.”
From where is this coach who has brought recruits in Asia, Europe and South America? Kansas, of course. Arkansas City, Kan., to be precise.
“I kind of fell into tennis,” Saia said. “My dad was a football coach and athletic director, so I kind of grew up with sports in general.”
Arkansas City is the home of Cowley College, where Saia reached the doubles semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament. Then he went to University of Kansas, where he got his four-year and master’s degrees and was a volunteer tennis coach.
From there, Saia was an assistant coach at Oklahoma, Vanderbilt and Texas Tech before getting the head coaching job at ISU in 2018. At Ames, he has taken on the world. He has added Alina Tsyurpalevych of Ukraine for next season’s team.
“When we set out,” Saia said, “whether it was American players or international players, we were very set on finding the best players to represent Iowa State. It ended up being our current roster is definitely international-based.
“We just got our first American commitment for 2024 (highly ranked Bianca Molnar of southern California). So I think we're starting to trend a little more in the American market. But regardless of what the next 10 or 15 years might look like here, we will always take the best players we can to represent Iowa State in the best kind of way.”
It’s an individual sport, but Saia said “If you can just have a will to want to create a strong team dynamic and eight people care about that, then I think those relationships will be formed and that's when it's really cool in college athletics.
“When you remove yourself and you know you're fighting for something bigger than yourself. You're fighting for your teammates, you know, and that’s when I think neat things can happen.”
From Bangkok, Banska Bystricka, Fujisawa and Valencia, and a coach from Arkansas City, the Cyclones are trying to conquer the world.
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