PHILADELPHIA Penn kicks off its 2008 women’s tennis season on Saturday when it welcomes cross-town rival Temple to the Levy Tennis Pavilion for the season-opening dual match for both squads.
The Quakers return nine members of the 2007 Ivy League championship team. Included in that group is the 2007 Ivy Player and Rookie of the Year in Ekaterina Kosminskaya. She announced her arrival on the Ivy scene with a perfect 7-0 record in Ancient Eight singles matches, never dropping a set. She also teamed with Lenka Snajdrova to go 7-0 in doubles play, earning first-team All-Ivy.
Also returning for the Red and Blue are Julia Koulbitskaya and Yulia Rivelis. The senior duo and two-time captains of the Quakers also received first-team All-Ivy honors in ’07 the third selection for Rivelis and the second for Koulbitskaya.
Michelle Mitchell and Charlotte Tansill are the two other seniors on head coach Michael Dowd’s squad, each providing experience and depth to the Quakers’ lineup. Mitchell has been a consistent starter for Dowd since her arrival at Penn. Tansill, in her first season as a Quaker following her transfer from North Carolina, recorded a 17-7 overall singles record in 06-07 and was a perfect 4-0 in Ivy play.
Sophomore Maria Anisimova teamed with Kosminskaya as Penn’s first doubles team to qualify for the NCAA Doubles tournament. The duo won their first round match before losing in the round of 16, finishing the season ranked 46th in the country.
The junior class features three women who have each competed at a high level for the Red and Blue. Snajdrova ended 07 on a ten-match winning streak in doubles on her way to unanimous first-team all-league honors. Amanda Avedissian posted a 12-6 doubles record and teamed with Tansill in the spring to finish the season on a six-match winning streak. Lauren Sadaka played mostly at no. 6 singles for the Red and Blue and provided unrivaled consistency for Dowd in that position. She was a perfect 15-0 in spring dual matches, at one point winning 30 straight sets.
Joining Anisimova and Kosminskaya in the sophomore class is Jacqueline Wong. She made the transition to collegiate tennis a smooth one in 06-07, posting a winning record for the season and earning important doubles wins along the way.
The Quakers welcome two freshmen to the squad in 2008 Vidya Dabir and Alexa Ely. Both women bring with them individual and team championship experience from their high school careers and acclimated themselves well in the fall season.
While it is impossible to improve on an undefeated league record, Penn looks to improve its results in the NCAA Team championships. While the Red and Blue have qualified for five tournaments in seven years, they have yet to make it to the round of 16 in team play. Penn enters the spring season ranked 52nd in the preseason ITA polls the highest ranking for an Ivy team in the poll. In addition, Koulbitskaya and Kosminskaya are ranked 14th as a doubles team in the preseason poll. The ranking is the highest position reached by a Penn doubles team.
A look at the Quakers’ schedule reveals eight teams ranked in the ITA poll, highlighted by a March 23rd meeting with 15th-ranked William and Mary. Another important stretch for Penn will be its week-long trip to California over Spring Break. Four of the five matches will be against ranked opponents - #46 San Diego St. (3/8), #36 UC-Irvine (3/10), #19 Pepperdine (3/11) and #38 Long Beach St. (3/13).
Up first for the Red and Blue is a match with city foe Temple on February 2. The Owls finished 2007 at 16-4 and advance to the Atlantic 10 conference tournament finals before falling to Richmond. The Cherry and White feature a squad comprised of all underclassmen (two juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen).
Here are a few quotes from head coach Michael Down heading into the season:
On the team’s outlook in singles ...
“Ekaterina Kosminskaya returns after a great 2007 season that saw her win both Ivy League Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. She will be our number one player. The veteran leaders of the team, Julia Koulbitskaya and Yulia Rivelis, will play in the number two and three spots. Behind those ladies is another senior, Charlotte Tansill. Charlie had a great fall, and if she continues her strong play she will be a consistent contributor. Maria Anisimova, Alexa Ely, Michelle Mitchell and Lauren Sadaka all will see action as well.”
On how the Quakers will look during doubles action ...
“Doubles is always hard to predict. In the fall, Kosminskaya and Koulbitskaya played extremely well together. In dual matches, however, the key is to have all three teams capable of winning. It is hard to predict how two women will fare when paired together, but I think we will be just fine.”
On how the fall schedule has prepared the Quakers for the 08 season ...
“Kosminskaya, Koulbitskaya and Rivelis all had good fall seasons, as expected. They are always highly ranked players and lived up to that billing. I was really pleased with Tansill’s play. Charlie had an exceptional fall and improved her ranking. The important factor for her is translating that to the spring. One of our freshmen, Alexa Ely, had some good results that vaulted her into the mix for a starting spot. I think the biggest thing I took from the fall is that we have great depth as a team.”
On how he expects the Ivy League to play out in 08 ...
“I think that our league has improved a great deal, even since the end of 2007. Princeton has added another solid freshmen class. Yale has improved as well. Of course, Harvard should be right back in the mix this year. You can go on and on. I know we will have to step up if we want to repeat as champions.”
On the Quakers’ non-conference schedule ...
“We have a very challenging non-league schedule ahead of us. All of the teams we play have players capable of advancing very far at the national level. We travel out west to California and play five matches in eight days against teams that are nationally ranked. If we stay healthy and compete hard, we will be a battle-tested group when Ivy play starts.”
On Penn’s recent successes in the NCAA Tournament ...
“Making the tournament is always a great reward for a good season. Last year, we accomplished another first with Kate and Maria winning their first-round match in doubles. Hopefully, we will build on that. “
On the leadership of his seniors ...
“This is really a special year for a special group. We potentially could have four senior starters. Sometimes, seniors begin to look ahead to life after college. I don’t expect that from these women. They are still hungry to repeat as Ivy champs and make serious noise at the NCAAs. As a group, this may be the most experienced team we have had. And that translates to impressive leadership on and off the court.”
On the strength of his team ...
“Our depth is certainly a strength. We are solid top to bottom. I think a great way to classify us is that we are dangerous at every position.”