After going just 10-28 and winless in Ivy play during coach Sanela Kunovac’s first two years at the helm, the women’s tennis program is setting up for success.
The future is now for a team filled with raw talent and promising recruits.
Kunovac has started four freshmen in the team’s lineup for much of the Ivy season. The result is the youngest team the coach can remember being involved with at any level.
“As we go along, they’re gaining experience,” Kunovac said. “I’m just glad they’ve gotten playing experience and a chance to immerse themselves in Ivy League competition.”
As freshmen, Connie Hsu, Jaime Yapp-Shing, Lauren Bridges and Stephanie Do have had mixed success. The foursome started the season well, going a combined 28-10 in matches heading into Ivy play.
However, while Hsu has maintained her torrid pace, the rest of the freshmen have earned just a single conference win.
Bridges believes that the team’s significant lack of experience has been one of a few potential issues as the team goes up against Ivy opponents.
“We’re up against nationally ranked teams like Yale, Harvard and Princeton and we’re capable of beating them, but we just don’t believe that we can, which is the first step,” Bridges explained.
“Maybe it’s just because we’re freshmen, and they’re ranked and we’re not.”
Despite their growing pains, the freshmen have nonetheless made a crucially positive impact on the team this season. With several players quitting prior to the start of the season, the freshmen’s mere presence on the roster has been a stabilizing force.
Kunovac calls the team’s improvement over last year “tremendous,” attributing the growth in approaches to practice and camaraderie amongst the players in part to the freshmen, although adding that ignoring the upperclassmen’s contributions would be “a very clear mistake.”
“The freshmen brought a lot of fearlessness,” Kunovac said. “I’m very happy that we’ve actually had to reevaluate our expectations of them several times in a positive direction.”
Thanks to Kunovac’s recruiting efforts, those expectations were already high from the beginning.
Hsu’s commitment to Penn last July was a major coup for the program and reestablished Penn as a potential destination for top-flight tennis talent.
“I promised Connie that I would find a way to build around her a class of people that will help her get better and that she would make better,” Kunovac said.
In fact, Kunovac had already secured a strong supporting cast of newcomers at the time of her promise to Hsu.
“I talked to [Kunovac], and I really liked the tennis program here,” Hsu remembered. “[Kunovac] also told me Jaime and Stephanie would be here.”
Yapp-Shing and Do both came to the Quakers with four-star recruit ratings and top 100 TennisRPIs from The Tennis Recruiting Network.
Joining them next year is Srinidhi Raghavan, a five-star recruit out of Sarasota, Calif., who as a high-school senior had a higher TennisRPI than either Do or Yapp-Shing.
“I’m so excited for next year,” Yapp-Shing said. “I know [assistant coach] Pavle [Jefferson] and [Kunovac] have done a good job in their recruiting, and I’ve spoken to the girls who are coming in and they’re awesome. I can already tell they’re going to fit well.”
After a full round of Ivy play, the current freshmen will be asked to mentor younger teammates if they hope to make the Quakers relevant again in Ivy competition.