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w tennis v Columbia nicole ptak,

With its final conference victory over Columbia on April 22, the Penn women's tennis team secured its place in Ivy League history -- and its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. The No. 68 Quakers (16-6 overall, 7-0 Ivy League) culminated an undefeated Ancient Eight season, claiming the Red and Blue's first-ever conference title. In compiling their unblemished record, the Quakers trounced league opponents by a 43-6 combined match score -- including 6-1 defeats of No. 58 Harvard and No.66 Yale. Now, the Ancient Eight champions -- recipients of an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament-- are on the verge of their first ever postseason appearance. Although matchups will not be announced until tomorrow, the Quakers believe they are slated to be underdogs in the tournament's first round. "We are looking at playing a team ranked between 20 and 35 in the country," Penn coach Michael Dowd said. "This should give us a No. 11 seed and set us up against the region's No. 6 team." That means the Quakers will be playing someone like No. 24 Florida International, which Penn battled to a virtual draw before their March 16 match was rained out. "We were playing Florida International tough before the match was cancelled," Penn freshman Nicole Ptak said. "We really had a shot to win that match." Despite their competitive effort against FIU, the Red and Blue struggled to a 3-4 record against ranked foes. And that includes wins over the Crimson and the Elis. The never-short-on-confidence Quakers, however, believe that their conference supremacy is more indicative of their capabilities, and are inspired by the potential for a first-round upset. "With our confidence from the Ivy League win, we believe we can definitely knock off our first-round opponent," Penn No. 6 Rachel Shweky said. "I think it's fun being an underdog. We have nothing to lose and the pressure is on our opponent," Ptak added. If the Red and Blue are able to prevail in their first NCAA match, they will likely face the No. 3 seeded team in their region in their next match. While a first-round victory would be a mild upset, advancing past the second round of the NCAAs would require a Herculean effort. "Although we'd be the underdogs, once again, we'd be confident from the prior match and be prepared mentally and physically," Shweky said. "We would have to go into the mindset of total intensity to pull out the win." As the Quakers seem hesitant to rule out their potential to don the tourney's Cinderella slipper, the NCAA Tournament field must be careful not to take Penn too lightly. Perhaps the final chapter in the Quakers' storybook season has yet to be written.

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