Triumph in Tennis

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Another women’s team earns its first-ever Ivy crown.

By Noel Hynd

Spring is gone and so are spring sports. Is it possible already that football opens against Lehigh in about a dozen weeks? 
    Well, yes.
    But meanwhile, I get to write about a Penn women’s team again. This time, tennis. Same reason as basketball. A first-ever Ivy League championship. 
    After enjoying a second-place finish in the 2000 ECAC championships this past fall, including a 4-3 win over defending Ivy League champion Princeton, Penn’s women’s tennis team was set to go after the Ivy League title. Coach Michael Dowd’s squad was led by three veterans who formed the middle of the singles ladder: Senior co-captain Shubha Srinivasan, who entered this season with an impressive career singles record of 62-25; junior co-captain Jolene Sloat, undefeated in Ivy League singles play last year; and junior Louani Bascara. Joining the upperclassmen were three highly talented freshmen: Sanela Kunovac, Niki Ptak, and Rachel Shweky.
    The Quakers started out their spring season by going 3-1 in their first four matches, defeating Temple, Army, and Drexel. Penn then came up short against three tough opponents, Penn State, Eastern Michigan, and Tulane.
    After rebounding with victories over the University of Richmond (5-2), Seton Hall (6-1) and American University (5-2), the Quakers opened their Ivy season with a victory over Princeton, the defending champions. The Red and Blue won five of six singles matches, and earned the doubles point.
    There followed a tough loss to Virginia Commonwealth (6-1). But then the Ivy season became the focus for the last six matches. The Quakers easily defeated Yale and Brown at home. Harvard became the next target for the Quakers, but, as usual, not an easy one to hit.
    The last time the Crimson had lost to Penn in women’s tennis was April 12, 1980—before most of this year’s participants were even born. Almost 21 years to the day, the Quakers beat Harvard, 6-1, in Cambridge. Harvard never let up during the singles matches, but Kunovac, Srinivasan, Bascara, Sloat, and Shweky helped Penn secure the victory.
    Penn maintained its focus against Dartmouth the following day with a 5-2 victory in frosty Hanover. Then, entering the final two matches of the season, the Quakers first had an opportunity to clinch a share of the title against Cornell. Penn dominated that match, winning 6-1 in Ithaca and a piece of their first Ivy title. A win against Columbia in the final match of the regular season would declare the Red and Blue outright winners, and grant them an automatic entry into the NCAA Championships. 
    In front of an enthusiastic crowd at Lott Courts, Coach Dowd’s team finished off the Lions, 7-zip, concluding their Ivy season with an unblemished 7-0 record, 16-6 overall. The win, as noted, marked the first Ivy title for the women’s tennis team since Ivy play began in 1973. Worthy of particularly high praise: Jolene Sloat and Louani Bascara both finished undefeated in League play.
    In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the 67th-ranked Quakers traveled to Baylor University in Waco, Tex., to take on 19th-ranked Pepperdine. Penn was the clear underdog—what else is new?—but the team rallied for a 4-3 stunning victory. After the match, Coach Dowd commented on his team’s success: “This is probably the biggest win in Penn history. It was quite dramatic. For an Ivy League team in the NCAA tournament to beat a Pepperdine team consistently ranked in the top 20 nationally is quite an accomplishment.”
    Though Penn was eliminated in the second round by host-school Baylor, the season was a hugely successful and historic one for the Penn squad. The Red and Blue finished with an overall record of 17-7, and 7-0 in the Ivy League and will enter next season as a very deserving defending champion.
    Final notes on women’s tennis: When the All-Ivy League women’s tennis team was announced, Penn freshman Sanela Kunovac headlined the top awards, sweeping Rookie and Player of the Year. Kunovac was picked as a unanimous first-team singles performer. Freshman Niki Ptak and senior Shubha Srinivasan were honored on second team for singles. 
    Penn’s doubles team of junior Rochelle Raiss and freshman Rachel Shweky were placed on the All-Ivy first team. Kunovac and Ptak also earned second-team doubles honors.
    Men’s tennis: Junior Fanda Stejskal earned unanimous First Team All-Ivy League honors. Under first-year head coach Mark Riley, the Quakers went 9-11 overall and 1-6 in the Ivy League.
 Baseball: Senior Chris May was named First Team All-ECAC in the outfield, while sophomore Andrew McCreery earned honorable mention accolades at the utility position. May was the 2001 Ivy League Player of the Year and the winner of the Blair Bat Trophy for the Ancient Eight’s best batting average in conference games. May also earned his first national honor by being named to the Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I All-American baseball third team. May was the only Ivy League player on the All-American squads.
    McCreery was a unanimous First Team All-Ivy honoree at the utility spot after batting .379 and finishing his second season on the mound with a 5-2 overall record and a 3.40 ERA. This season McCreery also became just the seventh player in Penn history to pitch a no-hitter with a 10-0 win over Yale in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. 
    The Quaker hardballers finished the 2001 season with a respectable 22-18 overall record and posted the most wins since the 1996 season, when they won 25. 
    Crew: The Penn heavyweight rowing team captured its seventh consecutive Madeira Cup victory on May 25, defeating Cornell in a close varsity eight race with a time of 5:34.47. 
    Track: Pennsylvania ended Princeton’s three-year reign as Heptagonal Outdoor Track and Field Champions with a dominating sprint effort in Princeton, N.J. 
    Women’s lacrosse: Sophomore Christy Bennett earned first team all-region status.
    Keep in mind that when Penn opens its 2001 football campaign this fall it will be as defending champs again. I don’t want to give away any early strategy, but I’m sure the word repeat is somewhere in Coach Al Bagnoli’s mind. Have a great summer.

Noel Hynd C’70 writes on sports for the Gazette.

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