Newbies continue to push Hawkeye tennis to hot start

Iowa’s freshmen on the men’s and women’s tennis teams have helped the Hawkeyes get off to great starts to begin the season.


Katie Goodale

Kareem Allaf volleys the ball during the men's tennis match against University of Miami at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex on Feb. 8, 2019. Allaf and his partner Jonas Larsen lost their doubles match 6-4. Miami defeated Iowa 4-1.

Cody Smith, Sports Reporter

Both Iowa tennis teams resume action this weekend after incredible starts to the season.

The women’s team enters the weekend still undefeated, going 6-0. The Hawks will have a chance to add another win to their résumé when they take on Marquette on the road Feb. 17.

The men are amid their best start in the Ross Wilson era, sitting at 6-1 with another two meets at home Feb. 15.

“When we put the schedule together, we were definitely hoping to be at this point with this record,” Wilson said. “So our guys feel good, but they also know there is a lot of work ahead. Hopefully, we can keep on getting better and take care of business at home.”

The men’s team has been led by junior Kareem Allaf, who is ranked 89th nationally.

Although Allaf has dropped his last three singles matches, he has managed to help his team in doubles, posting a 6-1 record in doubles with senior partner Jonas Larsen. He is just one of two pairings of Hawkeyes who have posted a 6-1 doubles record, along with Will Davies and Oliver Okonkwo.

Going up against Missouri-Kansas City and Omaha Feb. 15, Wilson will rely on the team’s hottest player: Okonkwo. The freshman has virtually put his team in a position to win every time he has stepped on the court. This season, Okonkwo has posted a 6-1 record among playing the No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 positions.

Last weekend, Okonkwo won all four of his singles and doubles matches. He was also the only Iowa player to grab a singles win against Miami, the lone team to beat the Hawkeyes so far this spring.

Katie Goodale
Oliver Okonkwo celebrates a point during the men’s tennis match against Miami at the Hawkeye Tennis Complex on Feb. 8. Okonkwo won his singles match against Dane Dunlap, but Miami defeated Iowa (4-1).

“I play to the level that [Wilson and assistant coach Joey Manilla] expect me to play,” Okonkwo said. “I think I established myself now; I am now playing at the level I want to be, but I did not expect to have this much success so early.”

The men’s team should get another sweep under its belt this weekend. Missouri-KC is a mere 1-3 this season, and Omaha is coming off a four-game losing streak and sits at 2-6.

The women are also off to one of the best starts in program history. The Hawkeyes enter the weekend 6-0 for just the third time in the past 10 seasons. In fact, Iowa has dropped just nine individual matches all season, posting an incredible 44-9 collective singles record.

However, this weekend will be just the second time for Iowa to hit the road this spring. It will mark the 22nd meeting between Marquette (4-2) and the Hawkeyes. Iowa leads the all-time series 19-2 with the previous head-to-head matchup coming last season; Iowa defeated the Eagles in a clean sweep, 7-0.

“I’m excited to see how we do on the road again,” head coach Sasha Schmid said. “I think it is an important match because it builds toward the following weekend, when we have Northwestern and Penn State. So I think its important for us to play well and build confidence and gain more experience playing on the road as a team”

RELATED: Hawkeye tennis picks up more wins at home

More notably than the Hawkeyes’ amazing start to the spring is perhaps the outstanding play by first-year Iowa players.

Sophomore Ashleigh Jacobs (5-0), freshman Sophie Clark (6-0), and freshman Michelle Bacalla (1-0) remain undefeated in singles. Additionally, freshman Cloe Ruette (3-1) has dropped just one match, and freshman Samantha Mannix (4-2) has dropped only two matches at the No. 1 position.

To no surprise, the new group of freshmen and transfers are the best incoming class for Schmid since she took the head coach job in 2016.

“In terms of the depth of the team, this class really helps up move forward,” she said. “I think we’ve got a lot of players who can play in the lineup. They are making lineups decisions hard for me, which is a really good problem to have as a coach because their all playing really well.”

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