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The UCSB men’s tennis team will enter the Big West Tournament next weekend as the No. 3 seed after losing to Cal Poly 4-3 in Saturday afternoon’s season finale. The loss for the Gauchos sends their record to 8-13 overall and 3-1 in conference, and the victory for the Mustangs takes their record to 9-12 overall and 4-1 in conference.
Santa Barbara had an opportunity to enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed, but top singles player junior Tobias Galskov’s absence due to illness and a determined Cal Poly team backed by hundreds of fans were too much to overcome. The Gauchos lost their eighth 4-3 decision of the year and will enter next week’s tournament as the No. 3 seed.
“It was tough not having Toby today,” junior Ziad Sultan said. “We handled the adversity well, and I think on another day we could beat Cal Poly.”
The match started with Cal Poly taking the doubles point as the No. 1 doubles pair of seniors Marco Comuzzo and Matt Thomson defeated Sultan and senior Sasha Gryaznov 8-6. At No. 3 doubles, freshman Ben Donovan and senior Jurgen De Jager of Cal Poly beat freshman Teague Hamilton and sophomore Andrew Riminton 8-6.
“There was definitely a lot of tension on the courts today,” Sultan said. “The fans backed their team and helped them get a good start in the doubles matches, but from there I don’t think the crowd affected our team much.”
In singles Sultan held his own, playing at No. 1 for the first time in months in Galskov’s absence. He defeated Donovan in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). Following suit were Hamilton, who defeated freshman Corey Pang 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), and freshman Erik Johnsson, who beat De Jager 3-6, 7-6, 3-0 (retired). Hamilton’s win was his 14th of the season, tying him with Galskov for the most singles wins in this dual-match season.
“Watching Teague and Erik battle for their three-set victories was awesome,” Sultan said. “I think our team fitness showed off in those matches. Teague had a tough match and I was really impressed. And Erik played really well so it was great to see him pull out the victory.”
The Gauchos played especially well considering they all had to move up one spot in the lineup to play higher positions against different players than they had initially prepared for. Galskov’s sickness also saw Riminton’s insertion into the singles lineup at No. 6 but he fell to junior Naveen Beasley 6-2, 6-2.
UCSB now looks towards next weekend’s conference tournament. Entering as the No. 3 seed, the Gauchos play bottom seed UC Riverside on Thursday. The Highlanders are 2-21 overall and 0-5 in conference this season, and the Gauchos defeated UCR 7-0 when they played earlier this season. A win over UC Riverside would set up a rematch against Cal Poly in the second round. Last season, the Gauchos won the conference tournament coming in as the No. 5 seed.
“I think we are fitter than Cal Poly, and next week at Indian Wells could be a different story in the high heat and in a neutral environment,” Sultan said. “I think we can beat this team if we play them next weekend.”
UCSB has one week to prepare for the biggest weekend of tennis so far this year. The Gauchos plan to continue working on fitness, defensive play and finishing matches better as they prepare to defend their conference tournament title.
UCSB begins Big West Tournament play at 9 a.m. Thursday, Apr. 24 at Indian Wells, CA.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kenneth Song of The Daily Nexus.