By Grant Wall
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The lone senior on Iowa State’s women’s tennis team came through when it mattered most, earning a crucial final point to lift Iowa State over Kansas State, 4-3, in Big 12 play. The score itself sounds insignificant, but in fact it might be a sign the Cyclones have turned a corner.
Until ISU’s win over the Wildcats on March 13, the Cyclones were sporting a 79-match conference losing streak. It had been a little over seven years – March 2, 2002 to be exact – since Iowa State’s last win over a Big 12 foe.
Hickey went toe-to-toe with Kansas State’s Natasha Vieria throughout the entire match. It was the ISU netter, however, that pulled ahead and won 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-5 to break the streak.
Hickey had to overcome a serious knee injury suffered last fall, as well as battling injuries throughout her junior season. For the senior, the win was an emotional one.
“It’s kind of hard to find words," Hickey said. "We have been wanting it for so long and have worked so hard. It is kind of like a dream come true. You don’t know how to react. I have to give credit to everyone else, they fought hard too, and it’s a good feeling because this is my senior year.”
The win comes under first-year head coach Armando Espinosa. Espinosa was an assistant coach last season for the Cyclones before being promoted when Michele Conlon took another job.
“It was a great match,” Espinosa said. “We played and competed really hard. It was great that Kara Hickey could finish it in her senior year. The program's first conference win in seven years feels great.”
Espinosa has the Cyclones pointed in the right direction. His team is 8-4 overall and has paced a 1-2 record in conference action. ISU ended with a 4-15 record last season, but Espinosa subscribed to a change for his team. After a strong recruiting effort, Hickey feels Espinosa has the team on an upswing.
Iowa State signed what the coaches believe is one of the best classes in school history before this season, and they have already contributed to the team’s success. Those freshmen have coupled with young talent already in place to spark the ISU improvement.
Erin Karonis was named ISU’s Most Valuable Player last season as a freshman, and has continued in her role as the team’s No. 1 player this season. Sophomore Liza Wischer has been great, doing nothing but winning, posting an 11-1 singles record during her second campaign with the Cyclones.
With Hickey being the team’s lone senior, that young talent will all be in place again next season, where they will be a year older and more experienced.