The weather is uncharacteristically cool in Indian Wells, but the UCSB men’s tennis team will look to bring the heat when the fourth-seeded, #57 Gauchos face off against UC Davis today in the first round of the Big West Tournament.
“We finished the season really strong,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “We’re fired up and ready to go.”
UCSB (13-10 overall) is looking for its fifth consecutive win in the three-day tournament, which would guarantee the team a bid to the NCAA National Championships on May 21 — the March Madness of college tennis. A win in the tournament, combined with a relatively high national ranking, could give the Gauchos a higher seed entering the national tournament and thus a better shot at advancing beyond the first round.
The Gauchos’ final two wins of the regular season against Sacramento State and San Francisco pushed the squad into the top 60 in the country and allow them to play in the ITA National Indoors in fall 2010.
While the Gauchos are the highest nationally ranked team in the conference, they finished with a 3-2 record in the Big West in a three-way tie for second with Pacific and #60 UC Irvine. In the top spot, Cal Poly finished the regular season 4-1. Since Pacific handed the Mustangs their only conference loss and the Anteaters beat UCSB 4-3 on Feb. 14, the Tigers earned the second seed and Irvine placed third.
However, the rankings at the end of the season have not proven to be a significant threat to the Gauchos’ reign over the Big West. Although the top two seeds earn a bye in the first round of the tournament and play only two days of tennis instead of three, last season the Gauchos finished third in the conference and still beat Irvine 4-3 in the conference championship.
Still, the Gauchos have had some trouble against the better conference teams during the regular season. They lost 6-1 to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and 4-3 to Irvine in Orange County.
Freshman Benjamin Recknagel has arguably played the best tennis for the Gauchos this season. The Germany native has won all five of his matches in the second singles slot and earned Big West Player of the Week honors twice, and owns the best overall singles record on the Gauchos.
With 2008 Big West Player of the Year, junior Philip Therp, back and healthy in the first singles slot of the starting lineup, the Gauchos are gaining momentum at the right time. The team has won six of their last seven matches. They have also beaten four ranked opponents this season.