Sanela Kunovac was hurting.
But that didn't matter. Not in the NCAA Tournament. Not with the match on the line.
In a truly inspiring performance, the Penn junior fought through heavy cramping to knock off nationally ranked Ipek Senoglu in the deciding match of the Penn women's tennis team's first-round matchup against Pepperdine last Saturday.
With the team score tied 3-3, the Red and Blue's No. 1 singles player ripped a backhand winner down the line for the 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 three-set victory, giving the Ivy champion Quakers (17-7) a 4-3 triumph in their first-ever NCAA appearance.
"I really wanted it," Kunovac said of the final match. "If not, I was going to make her [Senoglu] really work for it.
"I guess it turned out our way."
After her match, Kunovac shook hands with her opponent before being rushed to the trainer's office.
"The only thing I remember is a minute after [the match]," Kunovac said. "I couldn't celebrate -- I was cramping up really badly."
But that didn't stop her teammates from rejoicing over their tremendous upset over the No. 19 Waves.
"Everyone was cheering and going crazy," Penn coach Michael Dowd recalled. "It was definitely one of the coolest experiences of my career. It was very memorable."
The Quakers certainly gave the Waco, Texas, crowd a thrill. Pepperdine -- winners of 14 straight Western Coast Conference titles -- claimed the doubles point to take the early 1-0 lead, but the Ivy champs stormed back to claim four of the six singles matches, punctuated by Kunovac's dramatic victory.
Penn senior Shubha Srinivasan and freshman Nicole Ptak both won handily in straight sets at the No. 2 and No. 3 singles spots, while junior Jolene Sloat came back to win in three sets at the No. 5 spot after being shutdown, 6-0, in the opening set.
The Red and Blue, however, could not keep the magic alive the next day when they squared off against No. 15 Baylor in the second round of the Tournament.
The Quakers simply did not have enough in them to knock off two national powers in as many days and advance to the Sweet 16.
"There was a lot of emotional drainage after the [Pepperdine] match," Kunovac said. "We came out ready and fought against Baylor. Everyone left their heart on the court and that's all you can ask for."
The Bears (21-6) were too tough, though, as they claimed the doubles point before winning the first three singles matches to capture the 4-0 victory. NCAA matches are called as soon as one team gets four wins.
Srinivasan, Ptak and freshman Rachel Shweky all lost in straight sets to give Baylor the comfortable victory.
"We were mentally ready to play, but we just weren't making our shots," Dowd said. "Baylor's tough and they weren't taking us lightly."
With the defeat, Penn was bounced from the NCAA Tourney, losing a match for just the second time in nearly two months.
But the Quakers were never expected to get this far. To win the first Ivy League title in program history followed by a match in the NCAA Tournament is a memory that the players and coaches will always carry with them.
"It's amazing. It's really great to accomplish something that's never been done before," Kunovac said. "For every girl, for every coach, for everybody that supported the tennis team it's a great accomplishment.
"And hopefully, more will come in the future."Comments powered by Disqus
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