If things go its way, Penn women’s tennis could end up with slice of this season’s Ivy League title, but ask anybody on the team, and it’s clear that the players have better things to focus on.
Yes, wins are important, but for coach Sanela Kunovac’s side, this season has been made to be about one thing – the process.
After an incredible spring break trip down to Florida saw the Quakers win four out of five matches, the team (10-8, 3-2 Ivy) hit a setback when it dropped its opening two matches of Ivy play to Princeton and Columbia.
But the tides have turned since, as the Red and Blue are on a three-game winning streak after beating Cornell, Brown and Yale.
But once again, it’s not about the wins.
“Are we taking care of all the things that we can control? That’s the number one thing that we’re focusing on,” Kunovac said. “As long as the answer is yes, the outcome is going to be what it’s going to be.”
But even taking each match point-by-point might not totally relieve the Quakers of their stresses, as the team will end its season against the Ancient Eight’s two highest nationally ranked teams.
To close out the regular season, Penn will travel to No. 44 Dartmouth and No. 49 Harvard in what Kunovac says will be guaranteed battles. In the standings, the Crimson (16-7, 4-1) are tied for first alongside Princeton, while the Big Green (15-4, 3-2) are one of three teams tied for third, alongside Penn.
Wins over both teams and a Princeton (13-7, 4-1) defeat would guarantee a slice of the title for the Quakers, and if things play out a certain way, four teams could end up with 5-2 records, making half the league eligible for first place.
“I think it’s pretty great for our league,” Kunovac said of the Ancient Eight’s recent surge in parity. “It also means that every single win has been much more meaningful.”
For senior Kana Daniel, the meaningfulness of these matches goes without saying, with a chance to finish her final season with her first Ivy League title.
Over the past four years, Daniel has established herself as one of the program’s most accomplished players, and she is the only nationally ranked singles player in the Ivy League.
When injury struck earlier this spring, the Spanish-international’s last year of collegiate tennis threatened to take a turn for the worse, but after last Sunday’s win – in which she didn’t drop a single game – the Dartmouth and Harvard’s number ones will have something to worry about.
“That [injury] would be enough to rock most people’s drive and confidence in her play,” Kunovac said of the injury. “But that was not the case with Kana. She just put her head down and did what she does the best, which is work.”
When she graduates this spring, Daniel plans to start a new chapter in her tennis career. After four years at Penn, the All-Ivy star will step onto the pro circuit, not a frequently traveled path for many collegiate tennis players.
“The pro-circuit is very tough, at times it can be a very lonely place... not even knowing what city you’re in because all that matters is the hotel and the tennis court,” Kunovac said.
One thing college tennis products do have that their professional competitors often do not is the experience of playing for a team, something that Daniel said has been the most meaningful component of her tennis career.
“We really are stronger as a team than as individuals, and I think that’s something that will help even when I’ll be playing for myself after I graduate,” she said. “I get to have this family with me here that is going to be supporting me for the rest of my life.”
But before she turns professional, there’s a couple things Daniel still has to take care of this weekend, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll be able to walk away with something not even players like Serena Williams can lay claim to – an Ivy League Championship.
Although the process is important, as Daniel puts it, “at the end of the day, we do want to win.”
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