PHILADELPHIA – The University of Pennsylvania’s director of athletics, Steve Bilsky, has announced the hiring of Sanela Kunovac C’04 as head coach of the Penn women’s tennis program.
“Sanela is an example of why Penn is such a great place,” said Bilsky. “Here is a young lady who overcame tremendous obstacles and took advantage of the opportunity Penn provided as a student. She will be a great coach and role model for the women she coaches.”
“It is great to be back at Penn!” said Kunovac. “Since my freshman year in 2000, I have felt a part of the Penn family. I am especially humbled to be returning in the capacity of women’s tennis head coach. I am extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to lead the tennis team at such a prestigious University -- the same University for which I once competed with all my heart.
“I have set high goals for the upcoming years,” she continued. “I expect our team to compete at the highest levels and represent the University with pride and honor, both in the Ivy League and at the national level. I am aware that we have a long and challenging journey ahead of us, but I am confident in our players. I look forward to our journey and future successes.
“My return to Penn is a testament to strength and closeness of my family, and I am so grateful to my parents and my brother for their love, support and strong vote of confidence. I am thankful to Penn for this opportunity and extremely excited to build upon the foundation of success that the University and the tennis team have already put in place.”
Kunovac is a name familiar to people who follow Penn tennis -- she was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in 2001, the first Penn women’s tennis player to earn both honors in the same season. That freshman year, she played No. 1 singles and led the Quakers to their first Ivy League championship and an NCAA Championship first-round appearance. Penn also won the Ivy title in 2002, Kunovac’s sophomore season, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Championship. Kunovac was the first three-year captain in program history and a two-time All-Ivy selection in both singles (2001, 2002) and doubles (2001, 2002).
Kunovac's path to Penn is an inspirational story. Born in Bosnia, she lived what she describes as an idyllic childhood until 1992, when Serbia and Croatia began battling over what was once Yugoslavia. With war in full gear, and roads blockaded, she was one of 70 children allowed to go to a tennis camp in Croatia through the Children's Embassy. Her mother and younger brother were able to join her on the trip, which was supposed to last two weeks. Instead, they stayed there for more than two years (much of it spent without her father, who was trapped in Bosnia).
Eventually, a peace treaty was signed. However, rather than return to Sarajevo, the now-reunited family moved to the United States and Kunovac earned a full scholarship to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
As a coach, Kunovac has worked at several different levels over the past few years. She was a volunteer assistant with the Penn women this past year, and in 2007-08 she was a volunteer assistant at the University of Arizona while working on her master’s degree. In 2006-07, Kunovac was head coach of the girls’ tennis team at Bradenton (Fla.) Prep, leading them to a share of the Class 1A state championship. Her top player, Carling Seguso, won the individual title that year, and the duo of Seguso and Alexandra Rasch the state doubles title. Seguso is currently playing college tennis at UCLA. Kunovac has also trained and mentored individual players in Florida.
"Sanela will do a great job in this new role,” said Arizona women’s tennis coach Vicky Maes, with whom Kunovac worked in 2007-08. “She has a lot of experience in the game and knows how to develop players. Her enthusiasm for college tennis is her biggest asset, and I wish her all the best as Penn’s new head coach."
While a student at Penn, Kunovac also was a Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) member all four years, serving on the executive committee for three of them, and was a Friars Senior Honors Society inductee. She graduated in 2004 with degrees in economics and in Penn’s PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) program. In January 2009, Kunovac earned her master’s in International Relations and Comparative Politics from the University of Arizona.