After a two-week hiatus from competition, Penn women’s tennis is itching to get back on the court. This weekend will take the Quakers (1-2) south to face Virginia on Saturday and Old Dominion on Sunday.
Historically, the ACC has been a hotbed for women’s tennis, and the Cavaliers (2-3) are no exception. Last year’s squad finished the season ranked thirteenth in the nation and made it to the semifinals of ACC championships before falling to North Carolina, the eventual conference champions and No. 4 team in Division I.
Despite the stiff competition that awaits the Quakers in Charlottesville, coach Sanela Kunovac sees the match as a meeting of equals.
“It’s amazing opportunity to play the teams that we should be pretty much even with,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is looking at it as challenging.”
The singles play on Saturday is shaping up to be intense, as both Virginia and Penn have three players ranked in the top twenty for the Atlantic and Northeast regions, respectively. The Quakers’ top singles player, No. 3 Kana Daniel, shares the mentality of her coach.
“We’ve been training really hard this whole season for the last two months,” the senior said. “Now that we have some match exposure, we’re going with the mentality to beat these schools as well.”
Sunday’s match against Old Dominion (4-1) will be no less competitive, as the Big Blue roster also features three players with top-twenty rankings in the Atlantic region. In its four wins of the 2017 season, Old Dominion has only dropped two games.
In anticipation of the pair of matches this weekend, Kunovac ramped up the intensity of her team’s workouts since their 6-1 win over Temple on February 4.
“We took notes on the Temple match and we realized that we’re looking really strong on court and we’re generating power,” she said. “Typically this time of year, we’re still picking up the pieces, and then we try to put them together around March. And we look like we’re about two weeks ahead of schedule in that sense.”
Although it is early in the Quakers’ season, Kunovac is impressed with how quickly the individuals on her team have coalesced and adopted a professional mentality towards training.
“I love the vibe in the locker room. As much as the coaches would love to take the credit for it, I’m completely aware that the credit goes to Kana and Luba [Vazhenina], the two seniors.”
Creating such a positive dynamic amongst the team’s ten players came as second nature to Daniel and Vazhenina.
“It comes from within ourselves to believe that we can be a top ten school in the future potentially,” Daniel said. “We’ve been able to have an impact on the team by showing that we can be the best team in the Ivy League.”
The Quakers’ early success is not due to their winning mindset alone. Rather, Vazhenina attributes the team’s professionalism to the consistent work ethic of the senior class.
“It’s setting a consistently good example,” she said. “Both of us work as hard as we can and would never take any reps off or any days off or ever slack.”
The intensity the pair of seniors brings to practice will certainly help the Red and Blue on their campaign through Virginia. If the team’s sessions down at the Hecht Tennis Center over the past two weeks are any indication of the results to come, the Quakers’ are primed for success.
“We’re looking good, and I’m really excited for the weekend,” Vazhenina said.
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