Women's Tennis Headed Back to the Promise Land in 2006

It has become the norm for Penn women’s tennis: take on a challenging non-league schedule, dominate lesser opponents and finish at the top of the Ivy League standings in hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament. 2006 was no different for the Quakers. This season saw Penn take make another push in hopes of getting back to the tournament, a place it had not been since 2003.

Springing Into the Season

Penn opened the spring 3-0 with wins over Temple, Penn State and No. 71 Virginia. The Quakers lost the doubles point to Virginia, but Yulia Rivelis, Julia Koulbitskaya, Alexis Plukas and Michell Mitchell all prevailed to help Penn to victory. With a 4-3 win over the Cavaliers, Penn embarked on eight straight matches against ranked opponents.

One Tough Stretch

During that stretch, Penn went 3-4 with one unfinished match against seven teams that received bids to the NCAA Tournament. After losing at Virginia Commonwealth, the Quakers salvaged their weekend trip with a 6-1 win over Richmond. Plukas and Rivelis won 8-6 at No. 1 doubles to clinch the doubles point. The Quakers went on to win four of five singles points in straight sets.

The Red and Blue then ventured to the West Coast for spring break. After losing a close 4-3 match to UC Irvine, Penn bounced back with an upset over No. 30 Arizona 4-3. Forced to play singles first due to rain, the Quakers won three singles matches. Koulbitskaya and Rivelis and Michelle Mitchell and Caroline Stanislawski both won 8-4 in doubles to pull out the win.

Penn closed out the trip with two matches in the Golden State. The Red and Blue lost 5-1 in a rain-shortened match at No. 17 Pepperdine, then took on No. 35 Fresno State in a match that was halted at 2-2 because of rain.

Ivy League Matchups

The Red and Blue opened the Ancient Eight schedule with a three-match road trip. Penn easily defeated rival Princeton 6-1, then headed to New England to face Yale and Brown. Against the Bulldogs, Penn won the doubles point, but lost at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in singles. Plukas, Ciochina and Stanislawski solidified the win by picking up victories. The Quakers capped off the road trip with a 6-1 win at Brown.

When Penn returned home the task was not easy, as No. 15 Harvard came to Levy Pavilion. Despite falling 5-2, Koulbitskaya picked up a straight-set win over Elsa O’Riain. Stanislawski picked up the Quakers’ other point to remain undefeated in Ivy play. The Quakers rebounded by beating Dartmouth the next day, 6-1, and then Cornell by the same score the following weekend.

In the Ivy finale, Penn took the doubles point from Columbia, but lost at the top-three position in singles. The Quakers shored up the 4-3 win with victories at the Nos. 3-6 spots in singles. Plukas, Ciochina and Stanislawski picked up the wins.

With the win, the Quakers finished 6-1 in the Ivy League and clinched second place. Penn would have to wait patiently for more than a week to find out if its post-season hopes remained alive.

Back to the Tournament

Penn learned on May 3 that it would in fact be heading to the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers drew No. 30 Tennessee in the first round at Georgia Tech. For the Red and Blue it marked the program’s fifth tournament appearance and fourth in the past six years under head coach Michael Dowd.

In the opening round, the Quakers played extremely well in doubles. Stanislawski and Mitchell shut out their opponents 8-0, then Rivelis and Koulbitskaya gave Penn a 1-0 advantage with an 8-4 victory at No. 1 doubles.

Penn received some help from the Lady Vols due to an injury; the Quakers were awarded a point by default at No. 6 singles. All the Red and Blue had to do was win two of the remaining five singles matches and they advance to the second round.

It was easier said than done, as four matches went to three sets. Koulbitskaya brought Penn within a point of clinching with a straight-set win. Tennessee got on the board with wins at the Nos. 1 and 3 positions. Penn then left it up to Stanislawski, the senior co-captain. In the third set, she trailed 4-3, but won the next three games to win the set 6-4 and score the upset for the Quakers.

The second round was not as kind to the Quakers, who faced No. 6 Georgia Tech. Penn was swept 4-0 by the Yellow Jackets, but not to be forgotten was the fact that Penn won its first NCAA Tournament match since 2002 and beat its fourth ranked opponent on the season.

All-Ivy Honors

For the second time in as many years, Rivelis earned first-team singles. Joining her on first-team singles was fellow sophomore Koulbitskya. The tandem also earned first-team in doubles going 5-2 in the Ancient Eight. Also being recognized in doubles were Ciochina and Plukas; they were named honorable mention.