Looking to build upon his team's success at the ECAC Tournament and end the fall season with a bang, Penn women's tennis coach Michael Dowd brought many of his finest players to the ITA East Regional Championships this weekend at William and Mary. Led by the strong play of freshman Sanela Kunovac, the Red and Blue did not disappoint. Kunovac advanced to the semifinals of the prestigious tournament before falling to top seed Nataly Cahana of Old Dominion. "I felt really good," Kunovac said. "[There were] a lot of matches, a lot of tennis all day long. I came out really strong [and] played really, really well." Building on what has been an extremely successful fall season, Kunovac definitely made an even deeper impact on Dowd after this tournament. "Sanela had a great tournament," Dowd said. "She's in better shape and proved it by going all the way to the semis. Sanela, as a freshman, is one of the best players in the East, and should be nationally ranked as well." Despite her overwhelming success, Kunovac was not the only Penn participant to make waves at the tournament. Fellow freshmen Nicole Ptak and Rachel Shweky teamed to advance to the third round of the doubles bracket, as did Kunovac and junior Rochelle Raiss. "[We are] getting to know each other's games," Shweky said. "We played great together." Ptak played singles as well, advancing to the second round before getting knocked off. Junior Louani Bascara also pulled off one singles win after her first-round bye, before falling in the third round. Penn senior Shubha Srinivasan rounded out the Penn singles contingency by advancing to the final 16 of the tournament. However, the freshmen were the talk of the tourney. In addition to the obvious promise for Kunovac's season, Ptak and Shweky's performances provided much hope for the spring doubles competition. "I thought they stepped it up," Dowd said. "[They] beat Syracuse's No. 1 team and William and Mary's No. 3, then lost to Yale's No. 1 in a tiebreaker. They were very close to breaking through." This tournament, centered more on individual achievement than team success, comes on the heels of the ECACs, the season-climaxing team tournament in which Penn was very successful, upsetting Princeton on its way to the finals. "The more matches you play, the more into rhythm you are," Kunovac said of ECACs. "We have a lot of confidence right now, and we have some of the best players in the East," Dowd said. With the fall season officially at a close, all attention is now focused on the more important spring. After his team's strong showing this fall, Dowd's optimism is well founded. "We had a great fall, much better than last year," Dowd said. "We have to keep moving forward and can't get complacent. We have a long way to go." After a moment of silence, possibly reviewing his team's performance, or just enjoying the thought, Dowd added one more simple remark. "We could be Ivy champs."
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Heading into this past weekend's Brown Invitational, the Penn women's tennis team really didn't know what to expect. With the important ECAC Tournament looming large on the horizon, it was hard to guess how the Quakers would react. Would they look past this tournament? Use it as a tune-up? Or simply go out and dominate? Behind the strong, veteran leadership of junior Louani Bascara, that question was very clearly answered. Penn won the B, C and D singles flights, as well as the C flight on the doubles side. Bascara led the way, going undefeated in all eight of her matches in winning the B flight singles, and teaming with Shubha Srinivasan for the C flight doubles title. "[Bascara] looks like a veteran," Penn coach Michael Dowd said. "She is a veteran, and she looks like she is stepping up and ready to take it to the next level." Bascara, a starter since her freshman year, was not the only standout for the Red and Blue. Niki DeCou was victorious in flight D, and Jolene Sloat won the flight C singles draw. Sloat's victory was one of the most exciting of the tournament. Down 6-7, 0-3, she went on to win six consecutive games in taking the second set, and then was triumphant 10-6 in the third set tie-break to finish the match. "[We] dominated the tournament," Sloat said. "I think there are always things to work on, but in this tourney everyone just did a great job, everyone was mentally focused and everyone worked hard for every point. I am really proud of everybody." The Quakers were strong from the beginning. Winning 18 of 20 matches on the first day provided the start the women needed to propel themselves to the great finish. In addition to all of the victors, Nicole Ptak was the flight B runner up and Carla Dorsey won the third-place match in the D flight. But in the end, this was Bascara's show. She defeated Ptak in the B flight finals, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, and teamed with Srinivasan to knock off one of Princeton's doubles teams, 8-2, in their prorated finals match. "Being able to play and perform as I did was something that made me happy," Bascara said. "It shows a lot as to how we can possibly be performing next weekend at the ECACs." And seemingly immediately after the Quakers' success at the Invitational, they showed their undying thirst for more by shifting focus to next weekend's tournament. "I am really looking forward to [the ECACs]," Sloat said. "We have the potential to go through this tournament and win a lot of matches." Dowd echoed her statements. The coach believes his team, which will be ranked fourth out of 16 teams in the tournament, has "got a shot to win it." This ranking, which is the highest for the Quakers during Dowd's tenure, coupled with the team's great performance at Brown, seems to have greatly boosted team morale and confidence. With the veteran's poise she has shown throughout this season, however, Bascara remained cautiously optimistic in her comments. "I think the difference between this weekend and next is how we work together as a team, since it is a dual match," Bascara said. "I don't like to throw out predictions, [but] I'm going to have to say they are going to have to watch out for us." If any members of the opposition caught wind of Bascara's weekend performance, they would be foolish not to.
What a start. In only her second tournament on the collegiate level, Penn freshman Sanela Kunovac advanced to the semifinals of the fourth annual Cissie Leary Invitational and fell only after a grueling three-set match against Penn State senior Pilar Montgomery, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. "I didn't really know what to expect," Kunovac said. "But I expected to play well." And play well she did. Kunovac was awarded a bye in the first round, and then went on to defeat Richmond sophomore Casey Cohen, junior Jan Perez of Penn State and fellow Quakers freshman Nicole Ptak before reaching her match with Montgomery. After defeating Kunovac, Montgomery lost to Temple freshman Danira Penic in the championship, 6-4, 6-2. Penn coach Michael Dowd was "very pleased" with Kunovac's performance against the experienced field, as was Quakers co-captain Shubha Srinivasan. "Sanela doing well in the tournament was not a surprise," Srinivasan said. "Coming into this [season] we are expecting her to play No. 1 for us. She is a great player." Kunovac was not the only member of the Red and Blue who shined this weekend. Before being eliminated by Kunovac in the quarterfinals, Ptak put up quite an effort. She defeated Dartmouth freshman Adren Fredeking, No. 6 seed Christina Causway of Boston University and Vanessa Bagnato, a sophomore starting player for Richmond. "[Ptak] has definitely earned a starting spot for the ECACs in three weeks," Dowd said. "[She is] improving every single day, in almost every match." The clash between the two Quakers occurred in the quarterfinals, and despite the awkwardness of competing against a teammate, Kunovac said the match was "good because we knew that either way one Penn player was going to get into the semis." In addition to the standout performances of the freshmen, Srinivasan proved her mettle by winning the consolation tournament after bowing out of the main draw. "It took a match for me to get into it," Srinivasan said. "It was just a matter of winning a good match and getting confident as I go along. I needed a good match." Another bright spot for the Red and Blue was junior Justyna Wojas, who defeated Columbia junior Joyce Chang, 6-2, 6-1. Wojas then toppled seeded freshman Kim Barfuss of Seton Hall, 6-1, 6-2. "She made a breakthrough," Dowd said. "[Wojas] played the type of consistent game that she has been trying to find for two years." Temple senior Tamara Truta then easily defeated Wojas in the third round, as Wojas won just one game in a 6-0, 6-1 match. After the tournament, Dowd was cautiously optimistic, acknowledging the Quakers' talent, but hoping for his players to perform with greater consistency. "We are looking for tough, consistent players that are willing to stay out there all day, because that is what it is going to take to win," Dowd said. "To be able to do that you need to be very fit, and that is one thing we are lacking right now -- conditioning." But the more hopeful side of Dowd peeked right back through the clouds. "If we can correct that problem -- and our players know they can physically stay on the court for five hours if they need to -- then this team could be Ivy champions." After the great start of Kunovac and Ptak, Srinivasan put it more bluntly. "Princeton better watch out," she said.