Of the many club sports teams at Penn, club tennis can always count itself among the most successful in comparison to its yearly competition. A highly competitive club with a notoriously cutthroat tryout process, club tennis has a knack for attracting skilled talent from across campus and is therefore awarded the opportunity to be as selective as it pleases.
Only the best are allowed the privilege to compete, as the tryout process trims the team down to an elite group — a group which surprised no one when it announced that it'll be headed to the USTA Tennis On Campus National Championship this week.
Joined by over 64 college and university co-ed teams, Penn will compete for bragging rights and the distinguished title of National Champion from April 13th-15th in Orlando, Florida. Previous championships have been dominated by California teams such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, and University of California, and by Texas A&M in the earlier 2000’s. Penn hasn’t been able to capture a title in the past 16 years, but the exponential rise in the group’s intensity and dedication gives them a better shot at the title with each passing year.
“They [USTA] have 4 teams from our section going, and we’re the first-seeded team. We got that seed because we won the sectional championship in the fall, which is huge because we’ve been to nationals at least the last five years, but we haven’t been the first seed since I’ve been here,” senior Ashley Berg said.
A top player and a former team captain, Berg projected optimism and enthusiasm about the team’s prospects in the sunshine state despite their placement in a competitive pool alongside defending national champion Auburn.
“When we’re there, we do have a tough pool," she said. "Auburn is the reigning national champion and they’re a No. 2 seed in our pool, but we did get to watch them last year and I think we have a pretty good chance of beating them.”
As the Quakers edge closer and closer to their desired standing in the national rankings, specific goals begin to emerge and encourage the squad to work harder and reach higher to earn the status they deserve.
“In the past we’ve ranked around 20th to 25th in the nation after going through nationals, so I think trying to beat that and getting top 20 would be really awesome for our team," Berg said. "We have a lot of returning players — a lot of really good players — so I think we’re going to do pretty well there this year."
Although the Red and Blue focus heavily on victory and take no match lightly, the team-wide emphasis on a good time and a culture of fun and inclusion cannot go unnoticed.
“We do a lot of social events; we’ll do team dinners, team BYO’s, and it’s interesting because we’re a co-ed team while a lot of teams are single-sex,” Berg commented on the team’s unique and easy-going culture. “We’ll do things like club tennis formal, and most of our tournaments don’t depend on how good you are or how you’re ranked on the team, so that definitely keeps things a bit lighter.”
As the recent sun and elevated temperatures in Philadelphia prepare the Quakers for the heat of Orlando, we’ll be waiting eagerly to see just how well the squad of ten can balance the fervor of competition and this light-hearted attitude of club play to earn a top spot in the nation.
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