Sometimes the fight means more than the win. And, in the 20th edition of the Cissie Leary Memorial Invitational, the Quakers endured extraordinary battles throughout the weekend.
On Sunday, play at the Hecht tennis center concluded at Penn’s annual home tournament, commemorating the late Cissie Leary, who served as the women's tennis coach at Penn from 1977-1996.
Junior Lina Qostal headlined the final day of play for the Quakers, losing a tightly contested bout against freshman Natalia Perry of William & Mary in a Flight B singles semifinal.
Qostal started the match strongly, taking the first set 6-3. The second set was much tighter, as both players raised their level and had their chances to close out the set, with Perry eventually winning it, 7-5. In the decisive set, Perry quickly opened up a 5-2 lead. But with explosive defensive play and guile at net, Qostal clawed back to a 5-4 deficit, before eventually falling in the semifinal bout.
But for Qostal, plenty of positives can be taken from the weekend.
“I didn’t have a great start of the season in terms of results,” she said. “In my last match [at the Roar-ee Invitational] in Columbia, I made a switch in my mindset, and I was able to keep that up during this tournament.”
For Qostal, her semifinal loss ended a promising run of four straight wins as the Quakers prepare for regionals later this fall.
The tournament is organized into three singles draws and two doubles draws divided into tiers based on each player’s skill set.
The Flight B singles tournament was won by Penn State freshman Sammi Smith, defeating Perry 6-1, 6-2 in the final.
When asked, Red and Blue coach Sanela Kunovac was impressed by her players’ resilience during tight matches.
“We’ve had some really big highlights,” she said. “Where the matches came down to third set tiebreaks, and we pulled them out, saving match points.”
One of those tight matches included a thrilling quarterfinal match between Qostal and Maryland sophomore Caroline Williams.
After dropping the first set, Qostal used her shot variety to force a third set, impressing with bold net approaches and forehand winners. In a match tiebreak, the junior from Rabat, Morocco played tough, saving match points to win, 11-9.
Other strong Penn performances included a quarterfinal appearance in the Flight B singles draw by defending champion sophomore Marta Kowalska and quarterfinal appearances in the Flight A singles draw by senior Kana Daniel and freshman Sarah Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss teamed up with Qostal to make the semifinal round of the Flight B doubles draw. The pair had an impressive 7-6(3) quarterfinal win against the Yale duo of Caroline Lynch and Sunday Swett.
For the Red and Blue, the close of this weekend's tournament provides the opportunity to improve and prepare for their regional competition and the spring season.
“It’s about implementing what I’ve been working on in practice, in matches,” Qostal said. “It’s good for me that I’ve won four matches in a row. Some of them were close, and it’s good for the confidence.”
Kunovac echoed Qostal's sentiment, saying that playing in close matches is a good experience.
“It goes a long way heading into the spring season knowing that a match is not over at any given point,” she said. “It’s one thing to know it theoretically, and it’s another thing to have experienced it.”
For this weekend Lina Qostal and the Penn women’s tennis team learned that a match is never over. They’ll take that experience and continue their strong start to their fall campaign.
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