By: Austin Seal
There’s a bottle of whipped cream with every K-State Tennis match, just in case.
Jordan Smith told his team that when the Wildcats defeated their first Big 12 opponent this season, a member of the coaching staff was hit with a pie in the face.
It wasn’t long before the Cats decided who would become that coach after the program’s first win over Kansas since 2014.
“Thank goodness I don’t have much hair, so it was easy to clean up,” said Smith. “It doesn’t matter if we have to grab towels, spray whipped cream, and cake every single person on the coaching staff. Whatever it takes to win.”
The victory at Mike Goss Stadium on Saturday afternoon would have been dramatic in any circumstances. A win in a match for winning all singles before Ioana Gheorghita meant that the Wildcats got to celebrate a walk-off victory.
K-State Tennis (@KStateTEN) April 5, 2021
“I need some time to relax and then I probably realize what happened,” Gheorghita said. “But the first feeling was just excitement. I am so happy for the team.”
To put Gheorghita’s winning performance in perspective, here’s a short history lesson from K-State Tennis.
Smith arrived from Middle Tennessee in 2015 as an assistant and took over as head coach of the Wildcats in 2018. Margot Decker, has been here since 2017.
No one on this program knew what it felt like to beat the Jayhawks. Until Saturday afternoon.
“We didn’t have that, and we talked about it yesterday. We said, ‘Listen ladies, it’s been seven years.’ Why can’t we go show that we’re just as good? ”Smith said. ‘We are there. Why not us? ‘
The Jayhawks came to Manhattan and were among the top 50 programs in the country, with wins over K-State, West Virginia, and Iowa State on their Big 12 resume.
Kansas may have owned the series, but the Wildcats showed promise in individual games this season as the schedules matched during the fall and winter.
It would be a tall order to put enough of those performances together for a team victory over the Jayhawks in the spring, but on a postcard-perfect Saturday in Manhattan, the Wildcats delivered.
“The main thing that went through my mind was the next point, the next point, the next point,” said Gheorghita. “The coaches said this was our chance. If we’re here, we’re here to take it. We just have to work hard.”
The afternoon got off to a slow start when Kansas won a hard-earned double striker on the set tiebreaker. Requiring a dominant performance from his team in singles, Smith returned to a simple theme: why not us?
“Yeah, it’s stupid to lose 7-6 in a tiebreaker, but we were right there. Why not us? Why can’t we get four points in singles and take the win,” said Smith. “They’ve done a great job.”
The comeback started on track one, true Karine-Marion Job was again No. 1 for the Wildcats. She drove past an All-Big 12 opponent in Kansas’ Sonia Smagina to get the Wildcats on the board.
K-State also picked up crucial points from Job and Anna Turco to put the spotlight on court five, where Gheorghita fought Tiffany Lagarde in a singles match that would break the 3-3 tie.
“That’s the best feeling ever in college tennis when you’re so close to winning, but so close to losing at the same time,” said Gheorghita. “I have no other word to describe it.”
Gheorghita played out of fifth place and played in three games for the Wildcats this season before her sudden death moment came on Saturday. The sophomore advanced to the third set of a back-and-forth game with the season’s first Big 12 win at stake.
She got the chance to throw out Lagarde in the second set, but lost the tiebreaker before slamming the door with a 6-4 win in the deciding third set. Cue the whipped cream.
More specifically, screaming followed by hugs and everyone being sprayed with water. For example, Gheorghita had beaten tennis frustration against the Jayhawks for seven years
And a towel full of whipped cream for her head coach’s face.
“Jo was meant for this,” said Smith. “This was her chance to show herself and get this done. Any kind of doubt could have crept into her head. We said, ‘This girl is tired, you can go out and take it from her’, and she did it. She went out and won that game. “
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