Sophomore Eileen Wang has wasted no time finding her role in Penn women's tennis' roster, quickly cementing herself as an integral part of the team's arsenal.
This spring season, Wang has consistently held winning records in both singles and doubles — in which she is often paired with sophomore Sabine Rutlauka. Most recently, the pair picked up their fourth doubles win of the season against the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights.
Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., she often spent time in the local tennis center watching her brother play. One day, she decided to join in on the action, and that was the beginning of her journey with the sport. Her family, particularly her father, was a driving force behind her success on court.
“When [my dad] was in college, he taught himself how to play and then taught [my sibling and I] to play when we grew up,” she said. “He's been my coach since I was four, up till now. I still play with him when I go back home. He keeps up with all my matches and texts me about it.”
Wang’s school life was untraditional to say the least. While most students spent their weekends hanging out with friends or catching up on schoolwork, she was traveling across the country, competing on the junior United States Tennis Association (USTA) tour. Inadvertently, she found a community among her competitors on the tour.
“I would leave Thursday or Friday and spend the entire weekend at a tournament,” Wang said. “We would always see the same group of girls at the tournaments, and got to know them pretty well. It was nice to see them when traveling and I am still in touch with them, especially the girls who play for other schools we compete against.”
Playing on a national level, Wang’s talent did not go unnoticed by college teams. Coach Sanela Kunovac singled her out as a talent that possessed both offensive and defensive skills, describing Wang as agile and explosive on court. Kunovac was particularly impressed with Wang's ability to seamlessly switch between the offense and defense.
While the intensity of training and play took a step up at Penn, Wang thinks the biggest change was more encompassing than the rigor of the game.
“The biggest change coming from junior to collegiate tennis is shifting from an individualistic to a group mindset. Here, your team’s success also depends on you,” said Wang. “That might put more pressure on you, but they’re also there to support you and it’s nice to know they’re always there for me.”
Eventually, the pressure of being on a team shifted into the comfort of having a backbone of support during each match. Wang noted that the stress that comes with adjusting to a new team was as high as ever in her freshman fall. Yet, once spring season rolled around, she grew more comfortable with the Red and Blue.
“I began to understand that they would support me when I was having a tough day, and no one on the team would blame each other for a loss,” she said.
Coach Kunovac has noticed this development in Wang as well, praising her for taking on a leadership role despite still being a sophomore. Her goals are those of a leader, aiming to make amends after the heartbreaking end to last year’s Ivy League Championship run.
“The biggest goal I have this season is kind of a team goal. We have our Ivy season coming up and last year we came short of winning the whole championship by just one match,” said Wang. “This year, we really are gunning for it and hopefully by the end of the season we have a ring.”
You can catch Wang in action next against Princeton on Saturday, as the team embarks on its 2023 Ivy League Championship campaign.