Though senior Kana Daniel has already established herself among the Ivy League's best, she'll need her teammates to step up as conference play heats up.

Credit: Carson Kahoe , , ,

The weather may be turning nice, but for Penn tennis, there’s a storm brewing this weekend.

Both Red and Blue teams will have their hands full with their first Ivy League doubleheader weekends of the season.

For the men (13-6), Friday’s match at Columbia will mark the beginning of Ancient Eight competition, and a day’s rest is all the team can afford before it hosts Cornell back in Philadelphia on Sunday. The Penn women (7-7, 0-1 Ivy) have the same opponents on deck, but they’ll face the Lions at home before making the long trek north to Ithaca on Sunday to take on the Big Red.

Whereas this is the first conference action for the men’s team, the women opened up their Ivy League slate last weekend with a 5-2 loss to Princeton at home – a tough pill to swallow for the Quakers.

Coach Sanela Kunovac’s side had been in great form ever since their spring break trip to Florida, but the loss to the league’s defending champions put an end to the Red and Blue’s three-match win streak, which included a 5-2 win over then-No. 36 Florida State.

Friday’s meeting with Columbia (4-11, 0-1) could provide just what the Red and Blue need to return to their winning ways. At the moment, the Lions hold the worst record in the league, as they are one of two teams with a winning rate under .500. Ivy play, in particular, has not boded well for Columbia in the early going. The Lions were swept 7-0 by the Big Red (11-4, 1-0) last week.

While the Red and Blue might be favored on Friday against the Lions, Cornell will certainly give the team something to think about during Sunday’s long drive.

The only thing that seems certain is another dominant performance from senior captain Kana Daniel, who is the only ITA ranked singles player in the Ancient Eight at No. 89.

On the men’s side, the weekend will be a trial by fire for Penn as they open conference play with the two best teams in the league.

Columbia checks in at No. 22 nationally while Cornell is not far behind at No. 24. The two are the only Ancient Eight teams to be ranked in the top-50 by the ITA.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a time where I can remember two Ivy League teams being ranked in the top-25,” coach David Geatz said. “One year you could win the Ivy League with a team that’s No. 44 in the country and now you can’t.”

Although spirits will be high after an inspiring 4-3 win over Penn State two weeks ago, the Red and Blue have not done too well when pitted against highly ranked teams. In the middle of their trip to Louisiana almost a month ago, Geatz’s side failed to grab a win against then-No. 25 Tulane, losing 7-0 in New Orleans.

With the team returning to full health, however, Penn has chosen the best time to take on the league’s on-paper leaders. Injuries have plagued the team in the nonconference portion of the season, but there’s clear recognition that these are the important weeks of the season, and a full-strength Red and Blue team will certainly give any Ivy opponent something to worry about.

“These are the two favorites for the Ivy League title this season,” senior Matt Nardella said. “So it’s going to be a tough weekend, but it’s a good opportunity for us to take out the top two teams and control our own destiny the rest of the way.”

“I think we’ve got enough talent to do it. If we win close games, if we win close matches we’ll win,” Geatz added.

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