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Junior Louani Bascara will play No. 5 this season, as Penn looks to climb the Ivy ladder. (Will Burhop/DP File Photo)

Entering the fall season, the Penn women's tennis team appeared to be on the verge of a challenging campaign. After finishing as runners-up in the Ivy League for the second consecutive year, the departure of three athletes to graduation left the Quakers lacking in experience and veteran leadership. It had been these three players -- Anastasia Pozdniakova, Lenka Beranova and Elana Gold -- who had led the Red and Blue for the past two seasons; now, only one senior, Shubha Srinivasan, remains. Vying to take the roster positions of the three former standouts were three inexperienced freshmen -- Sanela Kunovac, Nicole Ptak and Rachel Shweky -- and a host of former reserves. While these players possessed a tremendous amount of talent, they also lacked the battle-savviness ordinarily necessary to succeed at the Division I level. But following the fall season, all doubts about Penn's ability to compete at the top level were erased. The Red and Blue dominated individual tournaments, reached the finals of the regional ECAC championship and saw Kunovac, Ptak and Shweky emerge as standouts. Brimming with confidence from their fall triumphs,the Quakers now have a squad that believes it can better last year's second-place finish in the Ivy League and advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. "We have the most potential of any [Penn] team in recent years," junior captain Jolene Sloat said. "We can win the Ivies and definitely have the ability to make a run in the NCAAs." Leading the way for Penn at the first singles spot is Kunovac. "Sanela was one of our top players this fall," coach Michael Dowd recently told the Penn Athletic Department. "I expect her to be not only one of the top players in the East and nationally-ranked, but to vie for All-America honors as well." Ptak currently plays second singles, followed by senior captain Srinivasan at the third spot. Returning junior starters Louani Bascara and Sloat play at No. 4 and 5, respectively. Rounding out the singles lineup is the final freshmen starter, Shweky. Doubles feature Kunovac and Shweky at No. 1. Pairing at the second spot are Bascara and Srinivasan, while the team of Sloat and Ptak completes the lineup. The Quakers have already begun a difficult non-conference schedule that will see them square off against eight teams currently ranked above them according to the ITA rankings. After losing 4-3 to a highly regarded Virgina squad, the Red and Blue have matches against top foes Tulane, SMU, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida International remaining on the schedule. In addition, the Quakers will face their always-competitive rivals in the Ivy League. Princeton, last year's Ivy League champs, will once again be a potent foe. The Quakers, though, defeated Princeton 4-3 at ECACs earlier in the fall season. And, following a 3-1 record in this season's first week -- the Quakers shutout Drexel, Army and Temple -- theteam is undaunted and appears ready to fulfill the promise of the fall. "I expect the team to win the Ivy League for sure. It's almost a guarantee,"Srinivasan said. "We can definitely kick Princeton's ass. We can also advance into the NCAAs. "We are that good." The Quakers continue non-conference play as they travel to Penn State on Saturday and host Eastern Michigan Sunday at 8:30 a.m.

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