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Junior Sonya Latycheva has been one of Penn women's tennis' top players all year.

Credit: Carolyn Lim , Carolyn Lim

With two months of the 2015 season already in the books, the Penn women’s tennis team has yet to hit its stride. The team is off to a strong but streaky start, and with Ivy League play set to begin this weekend, the Quakers hope to maintain their strong play in order to compete for their first conference title since 2007.

Penn (7-4) got off to a hot start at the beginning of the semester, winning their first three matches against Temple, Florida International and Albany. The Temple and Albany matches ended in hard-fought 4-3 victories, coming down to the wire in the singles matches after clutch wins to steal the doubles point.

The Red and Blue lost their first match of the spring season on the road at Old Dominion in February. Despite winning two of three matches to take the important doubles point, Penn could only muster two singles victories in a disappointing 4-3 defeat.

The Quakers responded nicely the following two weekends, winning convincingly over Richmond and neighbor Drexel, 5-2 and 7-0 respectively.

Senior Sol Eskenazi and junior Sonya Latycheva, the top two singles players and No. 1 doubles team for the Red and Blue, are the clear leaders. Tasked with playing opponents’ best players, Eskenazi and Latycheva have fared very well, going 5-3 and 7-4 in singles respectively, and 3-1 as a team.

“We’re physically very strong, we’re peaking at the right time and we are very comfortable with several doubles combinations within the team, which gives us a lot of flexibility in how to play when we get into different matches,” coach Sanela Kunovac said.

“Our players are finding a way to win the tough points when the match is a seesaw, so those are the things that are going right.”

The week leading up to spring break was the start of an arduous stretch of the Quakers’ schedule. Starting on March 1, the Red and Blue played three straight matches on the road against teams ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association top 75.

Penn dropped 5-2 decisions to No. 54 Maryland and No. 51 St. Mary’s; however, sophomore Kana Daniel was impressive in the team’s losses, winning in three sets in both match ups.

Competition did not get any easier for the Quakers, as they had to face No. 39 Arizona State the day after losing to St. Mary’s. The Quakers fought hard, but the Sun Devils — who this week reached No. 19 in the ITA standings — proved too much for the Red and Blue in a 7-0 sweep.

Penn recovered from the losing streak over the past two weekends, defeating both UNLV and Georgetown, 5-2.

The Quakers finish out the season with seven straight matches against Ivy League opponents.

These matches against fellow Ancient Eight school are not only the most important for the Red and Blue, but also quite possibly the most difficult. No. 23 Dartmouth, No. 40 Harvard and No. 58 Columbia appear to be the most daunting tests ahead for the Quakers, who hope to do better than their sixth-place finish in the Ivy League last year.

Kunovac believes her team can make a statement with a win this weekend against defending conference champions Princeton.

“I think if we can take down the defending Ivy League champs at home, it will give us a perfect springboard for the rest of our matches. It sends a message to our Ivy opponents but it would be a huge confidence boost for our team. We’re primed for that.”

She also believes the key to success may be hidden in something beyond what the players do with the racquets in their hands.

“I want to see heart. They’ve all sacrificed so much this season and I want to see those sacrifices pay off, but the only way the outcome is going to be the right one is if they put everything on the line.

“I want to see raw heart.”

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