Sanela Kunovac, a 2004 graduate of University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences, was hired as the women's tennis coach at Penn in July of 2009 and enters her fifth season running the program in 2013-14.
During each of her first four years at Penn, Kunovac's team has shown marked improvement. Last year's highlight, of course, was the doubles play of sophomore Sol Eskenazi and freshman Sonya Latycheva -- the duo won the ITA Northeast Regional title in the fall, earned unanimous first-team All-Ivy recognition in the spring, and played at the NCAA Championships as well as the ITA National Indoors. Eskenazi was also voted by the coaches as a first-team All-Ivy singles player.
In 2011-12, for the second straight season, Kunovac coached the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in Eskenazi. The Quakers also had two players earn All-Ivy honors in singles and a doubles team earn first-team All-Ivy.
The Quakers' No. 1 doubles pairing also became the first nationally-ranked doubles team at Penn since the 2008-09 season. In 2012, the Quakers also defeated then-No. 72 Harvard, the team's first win over a ranked opponent since the 2008 season.
In the 2011 season, Connie Hsu was named the Ivy League Player and Rookie of the Year. Hsu also teamed up with Alexa Ely and the duo made a formidable pairing, earning first-team All-Ivy in doubles competition. Hsu also became the first individual to qualify for the Women's NCAA Championships in singles play since Alice Pirsu in 2003. During the NCAA Championship, Hsu went 1-1 and advanced to the Round of 32 after beating the fifth-ranked player in the opening round.
"Sanela is an example of why Penn is such a great place," said Penn's director of athletics, Steve Bilsky, at the time of her hire. "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 win over nationally-ranked Pepperdine. 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).
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.