As far as Penn women's tennis coach Sanela Kunovac is concerned, the Ancient Eight has inducted a new member, at least for this coming weekend.
When the Quakers face St. John’s this Saturday, they will do so with the same mentality as if they were pitted against Ivy league rivals such as Harvard or Dartmouth.
“It’s going to be the last chance for us to really iron out all the things we want to deal with before the Princeton match,” Kunovac said.
“I think we are in a great position,” she continued. “The team is looking forward to treating this match as if it’s an Ivy match because that’s the mindset with which we are coming in.”
But as the past week showed, a tough mindset may not always be enough to win matches.
Over spring break, the Red and Blue (6-6) traveled down to Texas where they faced a tough slate of competition, notching only one win out of four games.
According to Kunovac, there was no question regarding the sheer determination of her squad, but in three of its matches, the team failed to translate that will into tangible results.
Penn’s lone win in the Lone Star State, however, proved to be its best all season, defeating a No. 55 Rice team by a narrow 4-3 margin. Pitted against its highest ranked opponent of the entire trip, the Quakers refused to fly home without a performance to be proud of.
“I don’t see [the Rice match] as beating or not beating,” Kunovac said. “It’s more about the process. It was wonderful to see two really evenly matched teams come down to just pure will.”
With the teams deadlocked at 3-3, all eyes turned to the number one match, where junior Kana Daniel had exchanged sets with the Owls’ No. 99 Lindsey Hodge. Down 3-0 in the deciding set, Daniel had only taken one out of the last 10 games. Then, seven games later, the Spanish international stood triumphant, winning the last set, 6-4.
“It really was the will, just the pure, sheer desire: ‘I don’t want to get off this court without a win,’” Kunovac said of Daniel’s performance. “It would have been memorable had that match clinched it or not, but the fact that it clinched it just made it that much sweeter.”
That sweet ending will surely give the Red and Blue a confidence boost as they prepare for the Red Storm’s arrival this weekend. A week’s hiatus in competitive play will give the team the opportunity to catch its breath, having played four matches in the last week.
Come Saturday, however, there is no telling what side of this .500 Penn team will turn up. As of now, it’s hard to identify a favorite, but St. John’s (6-2) recent 5-2 loss to Cornell means that this is a must win for the Quakers to be competitive in Ivy play.
“As far as which way the results will roll, it’s hard for me to predict, and it’s actually not what I am in the business for anyway,” Kunovac said.
“I want to see us compete at the exact same level and the same focus with the same preparation that we came out with during the last few matches in Texas,” she continued. "If that happens, the match will be in our hands.”
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