In coach Sanela Kunovac’s first season in 2009, Penn went winless in the Ivies for the first time ever. Now, six seasons later, the Red and Blue have the chance to lay claim to their fourth title since competition opened in 1979.
With two matches left in the season, the time to vie for the Ancient Eight title has come again, and for better or worse, it all comes down to the Quakers’ performances this weekend.
“It is the first time in maybe nine, ten years, that going into the final weekend, we are completely in the full control of our destiny,” Kunovac said.
Sitting in a three-way tie for second, the Red and Blue (10-7, 3-2 Ivy) will go up against the New York contingent of the Ivy League in Cornell and Columbia. The Big Red (14-7, 3-2) join Penn in second place as the Lions (14-5, 4-1) stand alone in first place with a lone loss to Yale.
If the Quakers can defend their home courts this Friday against Cornell and escape from Columbia with a win as well, they guarantee themselves at least a share of the Ivy title.
A quick glance at ITA rankings confirms that No. 52 Penn will face stiff competition in No. 63 Cornell and especially No. 34 Columbia, but time and time again, the Ancient Eight has showed that anything is possible.
“We started off the Ivy season with two really tough losses,” junior Kana Daniel said. ”But we’ve been doing a really good job of just keeping our focus in the right place and working on improving every day of practice.”
Throughout the season, Kunovac and her team have stressed the importance of their training. Now is the time to see if all that hard work has actually paid off.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to train as hard as we did all these weeks coming in and look for our normal tennis,” Kunovac said. “Nothing extraordinary, but our normal should be good enough to put us in the running.”
“At this point it comes down to trusting our training,” she continued. “I feel like a champion team is one whose average is going to get them there.”
There is no doubt that there will be at least one championship team on the court when Columbia and Penn confront each other on Sunday, but if the Quakers can pull off the upset, there may very well be two.
For some of the Red and Blue players, however, a win over the Lions may not seem like an upset but a sign that all is well in the tennis world. Sonya Latycheva, the team’s lone senior, has not forgotten Penn’s 5-2 triumph over the Lions from last season.
“I still have that in the back of my head,” the Toronto native said.
Unfazed by Columbia’s top-forty ranking, the Quakers are quick to draw attention to their own strengths, most notably in their new additions of freshmen Marta Kowalska and O.J. Singh.
“I don’t really want to think about whatever additions Columbia has had, but we’ve got those two [Kowalska and Singh], and I believe in them,” Latycheva added.
But as important as having strengths are, Kunovac believes that the team’s recent success can be attributed to one thing — confronting its weaknesses.
“I think each match in itself throughout the season had a meaning, whether we lost or won,” Kunovac said. “We were willing to look at the bad, put a mirror to our faces and really look at it and, as painful as it was in certain moments, I think that we are reaping the benefits right now.
“It’s good to be at this level in the Ivies right now.”
This weekend, they'll find out exactly what that level is.
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