Late in the third set of her match against Princeton last Saturday, Penn women's tennis' top singles player and senior captain Sol Eskenazi was in the middle of an epic battle. Trailing in a tiebreaker, the senior ripped a lefty forehand up the line, leaving the Princeton player dead in her tracks, forced to watch the ball fly by.
“Vamos!” Eskenazi, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, roared with a big fist pump.
As exemplified by Eskenazi, college tennis has recently become a showcase of the best athletic talents from not only the United States, but nations worldwide. And the Red and Blue are no different.
While walking around Hecht Tennis Center for a practice or a match, one can’t help but notice the diversity among this year’s team. In fact, over half of the Quakers roster is comprised of international students or Americans who trained overseas.
Penn’s two seniors, Eskenazi and Romanian Alexandra Ion, along with Canadian junior Sonya Latycheva and Moroccan freshman Lina Qostal, are the four students who emanate from abroad. Additionally, two more Quakers — sophomore Kana Daniel of Spain and freshman Ria Vaidya of Singapore — attended American-based online high schools but hail from abroad.
It might appear that head coach Sanela Kunovac — born in Bosnia — and Croatian assistant coach Filip Kricka purposely target players from outside American borders. It turns out that isn’t the case.
“Those two seniors were simply some of the best tennis players in their recruiting class that year,” Kunovac said. “Sol was a top 30 [ranked] junior in the world when we were recruiting her. Most players that good turn pro.
"She had offers on the table from some of the best tennis schools in the country, but she chose us.”
According to Kunovac, schools with high academic standards like Penn create an interesting situation for coaches when recruiting players from abroad.
Penn and other Ivy League schools historically attract some of the country’s best athletes for educational reasons. However, due to the fact that the conference forbids athletic scholarships, many students are forced to go elsewhere, no matter how much a coach may want a particular athlete.
The education aspect of recruiting athletes to schools like Penn does not always work in the universities' favor. This is especially true for sports such as tennis, in which coaches are in an endless search for the best players from outside the U.S.
“It’s actually much more difficult to recruit internationally because of the differences in grades especially in Europe and even South America, where their focus is much more on professional tennis rather than schooling," Kunovac said. "By the time they are seniors in high school, they are not prepared for what Penn is looking for. These international players may have financial problems as well, making it hard for them to come here."
As a program, the Quakers do not define their team by their nationalities or native languages. Tennis players from around the world are not all that different, and the competitiveness is certainly universal.
“You have to realize that the players that we have here are some of the best players in their age groups," Kunovac said. "Most know each other and have played each other in juniors. The tennis world is small, and the culture of competitive tennis is something that resonates among all athletes.
"Although a player from Connecticut may be different than one from Florida or Texas, [international] players are really not very different in the way they play or compete.”
Penn coaches in all sports simply want the best athletes to come to the school. And for the Red and Blue, there is no preference towards players from here or abroad. The Quakers just want to win.Comments powered by Disqus
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