They’ve gotten going early this year.
Since Penn women’s tennis qualification for the ITA Kickoff Weekend at the end of last year, the team has made a commitment to kick-start their season earlier. For the Red and Blue, the year started in September, and they have not looked back since. Compared to 2014-15, when a majority of the non-league matches for the Quakers took place starting in the last week of January, 2016 has been fairly busy.
So far, this long schedule seems to be paying dividends for the team, as demonstrated on Sunday afternoon at Hecht Tennis Center. Coming fresh off a win against Old Dominion, the Quakers sent Rutgers packing with a 6-1 finish.
And the early start to the year is all part of a bigger plan for coach Sanela Kunovac.
“If we can hit every benchmark between now and the end of March,” she commented, “then we are going to be in a great position for the Ivies.”
From the outset, it did not seem like the Quakers (2-3) would be making much progress toward their season goals, conceding the doubles points after losses at second doubles — sophomore Ria Vaidya and freshman Marta Kowalska — and third doubles — sophomore Lina Qostal and freshman OJ Singh.
The doubles point would be decided in the final matchup. As the last doubles duo on the court, Singh and Qostal pushed off to a 6-6 start. Heading into the tiebreaker, they stayed strong at first, winning points at the net early on. Singh kept the team in the match from behind the line — hitting an ace and other unreturnable serves. However, despite the animated cheers of the Penn crowd from the sideline, the team could not fend off the firepower of the duo for Rutgers (0-1) of Lindsey Kayati and Farris Cunningham, eventually losing, 7-6(6).
But if the Quakers’ long and more difficult, season has taught them anything, it is how to bounce back.
Following the disappointing loss of the doubles point, six singles matches were played, and zero sets were dropped as the Red and Blue thundered towards a victory against the Scarlet Knights.
“We didn’t lose a single set in singles, [which] is a very big indicator of how we were able to focus, and press that reset button and restart,” Kunovac said following the rally.
Headlining the win was junior Kana Daniel at the No. 1 spot on the singles ladder. One of the last two matches on the court, the Valencian won the first set 6-4 before pulling out to a 3-0 lead in the second. That was when the Rutgers No. 1, Gina Li started to fight back. Both women rallied, hitting shots out wide, hoping to draw their opponents off the court. Daniel was ultimately victorious.
Sophomore Ria Vaidya, the last match on court, also fended off Rutgers Chloe Lee en route to her 6-4, 6-3 victory. Qostal exacted her revenge on Kayati in singles, rushing to a 6-0, 6-3 finish, and Singh also had no problem putting away her Rutgers opponent. Freshman Marta Kowalska and senior Sonya Latycheva were just as dominant, quickly taking down their opponents.
Early miscues meant the match would not be decided early, but it enabled the Red and Blue to push toward the lofty goals Kunovac has for her team. And, as Daniel noted, it pays off.
“We’re getting tested every time and it’s a really great experience.”
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