The Quakers want to be the Ivy League’s top team for the first time in nine years, but they’ll have to do it without the top player in program history.
Sol Eskenazi, who became the program’s most decorated player ever with eight All-Ivy awards in her four years at Penn, graduated last spring.
“It’s funny because she’s not around in [that] she’s not on campus, but she is constantly in touch with us,” coach Sanela Kunovac said. “I think I talk to her almost as much now as I did before. The only difference is I don’t get to see her daily at practice.”
If any athlete has managed to stay integrated in the Penn tennis community after graduation, it’s Kunovac, who graduated from Penn in 2004 and has served as the head coach of the women’s team since 2009.
But the coach knows that Eskenazi being in touch isn’t the same as her being on the court.
“Sol is the type of player and type of person that is irreplaceable. So it’s not about how to replace her, it’s about how to go about building on the culture she has left behind. A player like Sol comes across every once in a while, she’s not someone you can have every year.”
Making up for Eskenazi’s production will have to be a team effort. This year’s Penn team boasts just two new additions, but both freshmen have very impressive resumes. OJ Singh enters Penn as one of the top 100 junior players in the world, and Marta Kowalska, the former top-ranked under-18 player in Poland, has multiple national championships to her name.
“The two of them have amazing backgrounds and great credentials,” Kunovac said. “Neither of their roles is to replace Sol, but to find their own place on the team. They’re very athletic, very responsible, they work very hard, and they’re tremendous teammates.”
The team will not only miss Eskenazi’s talent, but her leadership as well. After the graduations of Eskenazi and co-captain Alex Ion, the team has just three upperclassmen: senior Sonya Latycheva and juniors Kana Daniel and Luba Vazhenina.
And there is much work to be done. Penn is coming off a season in which they finished fifth in the Ancient Eight at 3-4 after winning three of their final four contests. The team hasn’t posted a winning conference record since 2008 and hasn’t claimed the league title since 2007. What are the team’s expectations for the upcoming campaign? Kunovac broke down the road ahead into three parts.
“We’re looking for January to the end of March to really sharpen up our skills and to push different doubles combinations, and really to push everyone, almost to the breaking point, so that we see where our weaknesses are and what we need to fix.”
“Then the second part of the season is the Ivy League, and I think our expectation is to contend for the title. And the third segment of the season is, we intend to qualify for NCAAs,” the coach continued.
“I think we’ve got the talent, and more importantly than that, we’ve got the hunger and the hard work, the players are really willing to work for it. They’re the ones who are volunteering to do extra work, they’re the ones chasing our coaches for extra help, and that’s a very good indicator of what’s to come.”
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