After spending its conference season dwelling at the bottom of Ivy League standings, Penn women’s tennis concluded its disappointing year on a positive note this weekend.
On Friday, the Quakers (8-10, 1-6 Ivy) headed to the Empire State to face No. 37 Columbia before returning home on Sunday to host Cornell for a Senior Day match-up at the Hamlin Tennis Center.
Though they suffered an embarrassing defeat — by a 6-1 margin — to the Lions, the Red and Blue avoided the shame of a winless conference season, routing the Big Red, 5-2.
Columbia (16-4, 5-2), the defending Ancient Eight champs and the early favorite for this year’s title, came out with a fighting spirit and left Penn in the dust early on.
Hammering down on what has been Penn’s brightest spot all season, its doubles play, the Lions held the Quakers’ top pair, junior Sol Eskenazi and freshman Kana Daniel, scoreless and bested sophomore Sonya Latycheva and senior Jaime Yapp-Shing, 8-6, to secure the doubles point.
It was a sign of things to come. They would win five singles matches — four in straight sets — to steamroll over Penn for the win.
The only point for the Red and Blue came by default when Columbia senior Ioana Alecsiu retired the No. 5 point, after edging Yapp-Shing, 7-5, in the first set, to finish the match early.
“It wasn’t easy,” coach Sanela Kunovac said. “[It] was the toughest defeat we had in the Ivies the whole year. We’ve been close in all the matches, in a winnable position in every match, up until Columbia. Columbia was really a big gap.”
Penn came back strong in its Sunday matinee, determined to take advantage of an underwhelming Cornell squad (7-10, 0-7) to ride out the end of its year and send off its seniors, Yapp-Shing and Stephanie Do, in a more savory way.
More characteristic of their season’s earlier successes, the Quakers dispatched the Big Red in doubles play and notched an early singles win behind Eskenazi, 7-5, 6-2.
After they dropped two points, the match, knot at 2-2, could have gone either way. But, in classic storybook form, heroic plays by the departing seniors saved the day for Penn.
With a win behind Do at the sixth position, 7-5, 6-3, to shift the match in Penn’s favor, 3-2, Yapp-Shing sealed the deal at the No. 4 spot, 7-5, 7-5.
“Do is playing the best tennis that she’s played in her college career. She’s really hitting the stride in all the balls she’s hitting and today was no exception, bringing the win. And Jaime really fought today,” Kunovac said. “She didn’t have her complete game and, in general, she’s been fighting injuries, but she made the best with what she had and clinched the win.
“That’s what we want. We want them to compete with heart. Not just when the ideal conditions are there, but when things are tough.”
Latycheva also pitched in a three-set win to put an exclamation point on the match.
With the squad getting the bittersweet win and sending off its seniors, emotions were running high. Tears of happiness were shed and hugs of congratulations and celebration were exchanged.
“I shook my opponent’s hand, and then I saw Steph [Do] and that changed everything,” Yapp-Shing said. “Everything hit me. I was just happy. The only word that really comes to mind is just happiness. Happy for her, happy for the team — we won our last match.”
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Do added. “I feel so lucky to be able to compete, to play for all four years. I’m happy we won, and our team got it together. I might be a little sad, but the happiness is suppressing that.”
With Princeton clinching the Ancient Eight title on Sunday, what’s next for the Penn women’s tennis program after this season is unknown, but its consistently strong doubles play and its singles lineup will certainly face a major overhaul with Yapp-Shing and Do leaving.
But, more immediately, celebrations are in order.
“We’ll most likely get dinner tonight. Something really delicious and dessert at the end of that,” Yapp-Shing said with a smile.