The nation’s 21st-ranked team proved to be too much for the Big West Champion UCSB men’s tennis team, as it fell to host USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.
Santa Barbara (6-19 overall) was unable to pull off the upset as the 12th-seeded Trojans (22-2) swept through doubles and singles play en route to a 4-0 win. Saturday’s first round loss marked the end to a roller coaster 2007 campaign for the Gauchos, who battled injuries all season long but managed to capture the Big West title.
“Anytime you make it to the NCAA Tournament, it is a success,” Big West Head Coach of the Year Marty Davis said. “It’s only our seventh trip to the NCAAs, and not many programs qualify, so it’s definitely a success.”
The Gauchos qualified for their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance with a hard-fought victory in the Big West Championships two weeks ago.
USC made its 29th appearance in the tournament and its ninth in the last 10 seasons. The Trojans entered the postseason with an impressive 20-2 overall record, with their only losses coming from #1 Georgia and #9 UCLA. Adding to an already tough task for UCSB, USC was also hosting the first-round match and had yet to lose a match on its home court all season.
USC jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead with a dominant performance in doubles, winning two of the three matches 8-0. The Trojans went up 3-0 with victories over sophomore Max Taylor 6-0, 6-4, and junior Jack Hui, 6-2, 6-2. USC freshman Gary Sacks clinched the match for the Trojans with a 6-4, 6-4 win over freshman Josh Finkelstein. Three of the more competitive matches of the day were still in progress, but the matches were called off after USC clinched the win. The Trojans advanced to play defending NCAA Champion Pepperdine and earned another decisive 4-0 win, moving them into the Sweet 16.
“We just got railed in the doubles,” Davis said. “We served poorly and they’re very, very good in doubles, so we got crushed. We actually looked pretty good in the singles matches.”
Saturday’s match closed the book on this season for all but one Gaucho, freshman Philip Therp, who will play in the NCAA Individual Championships in Athens, Georgia from May 23rd-28th. Therp earned the bid, along with the Big West Freshman of the Year award, despite missing six weeks with a broken wrist. Therp is just one of many impressive young players that should be returning to UCSB’s squad next season, as the team only has one graduating senior, Elad Stern, whose season was unfortunately cut short after he suffered a torn rotator cuff early on. With the plethora of injuries the team suffered this season, every player on the Gauchos’ roster has had a chance to step in and make a valuable contribution to a conference championship experience, which should prove to be invaluable in the coming years for the program.