Chase Masciorini hits a well-spun forehand. Stephen Manga / Daily Nexus

It was a perfect day for tennis at the annual Costa Mesa Intercollegiate Classic — sun shining, fans and family members cheering in the stands.

Less than 500 feet away — away from the noise and excitement — senior Chase Masciorini sat in the driver’s seat of his car, surrounded only by deafening silence and self-doubt.

“Was this the end?” he thought to himself, mind racing, heart pounding. After years of grueling practices, waking up early for stadium runs, proving his worth to the coaches, was he going to abandon his first love just like that?

After six months of failed treatments, sheer frustration and mediocre tennis, Masciorini had hit his breaking point.

As an underclassmen, Masciorini likely would have turned to worldly pleasures to ignore his disdain — partying, drinking, all the “typical college things” he was so well known for on the team.

But that was the old Masciorini — the one who struggled with fulfillment in his life, who struggled to live up to the immense pressure he placed on himself on the tennis court. Instead, still alone in his car, he closed his eyes and prayed, asking God for advice.

“I felt like, in that moment, God told me to keep going and persevere, which was hard to hear because it had been five months of struggling and quitting really looked the most appealing,” he said. “At that moment, I made a decision I wasn’t going to let the injury defeat me. I knew neither solution was ideal, but I trusted God that something good would come out of it.”

Long before that defining moment, before the injury that would plague him for so long, Masciorini was a sophomore struggling to get his chance on the court. He played only one singles match all season, losing on court six, and his partying habits were starting to catch up to him. Discontent, Masciorini knew he needed to change something… he just wasn’t sure what.

“I realized a lot of what I was doing wasn’t making me happy. The more I did it [party], the more empty I felt and the more stressful the other aspects of my life were,” he said. “I tried focusing on being a better person, but that didn’t change [my habits].”

Masciorini finally decided to give up all that dissatisfaction in exchange for “peace, joy, happiness.” He decided to turn to

God, to become a more religious man. Along with gaining a new perspective on life, the decision enabled Masciorini to finally play freely on the court. No longer was he just playing for himself — he was playing for something greater.

“It took all the pressure off… I no longer felt like my failures defined me, so now I was just stoked to get to play tennis,” he said.

That change proved to be fruitful on the court. Without the added burden on himself, Masciorini developed into one of the team’s most consistent contributors, developing a niche for himself at the number six spot. At that spot, he won 10 of his 15 matches on the season, helping the team to their third straight conference title.

Still, something just felt a little bit off.

At the advice of the trainers, Masciorini took a few weeks off from playing tennis after the season ended in hopes of letting his injury heal naturally. But when he came back, the hip just felt worse.

“The hip was way more tight when I came back, so I decided to take another three weeks off to do physical therapy,” he said. “I ended up not playing tennis for a month and a half after the injury.”

His frustration started to mount as the pain refused to go away, ultimately culminating during that fateful December day.

After God told him to persevere, Masciorini decided to get a CT scan on his injury. That scan revealed inflammation in his SI joint, a joint he had completely ignored in his rehabilitation efforts.

“It was frustrating because I knew with the right diagnosis in the first place I could have been back in fall,” Masciorini said.

Now, Masciorini was in a race against the clock. On Jan. 13, just before the team’s first regular season match, he resumed practicing — his first fully healthy practice in more than six months. He knew he wouldn’t be able to contribute on the court for the majority of the season, his last in a UCSB uniform. Instead, he made a decision: he would do everything he could to help the team, no matter how unorthodox.

“We have a policy here: team first,” he said. “I really buy into that concept, so I decided if I can’t contribute in the way that

I’m used to, then I’m going to do everything in my ability to help us win, whether it be cheering or helping the new guys and the coaches.”

At first, this proved to be an adjustment for Masciorini; he knew he wanted to help, but had a hard time swallowing his pride. All of last year, Masciorini had only focused on warming up for the match. Suddenly, he was thrust into setting up for the match, a role that freshmen typically perform.

But as Masciorini became more content with his situation, he began to truly embrace the various roles he would take on.

Before the first game, Head Coach Marty Davis asked Masciorini if he would DJ and MC the home match, calling out scores and keeping the fans engaged.

“I remember being really nervous the first time I had to MC the game, speaking into the mic and hearing my own voice,” Masciorini said. “I just try to have fun with it. The guys love it and I realized this is a way I can contribute, helping the team come together.”

Now Masciorini’s booming voice is synonymous with a home match for the Gauchos, with his electronic interludes between points bringing a sort of energy that has inspired the team to an 11-0 home record.

Even when he’s not on the mic, Masciorini is making his presence, a sort of presence that exudes confidence and comfort, felt at matches. In the team’s March 3 home match against St Mary’s, Masciorini noticed one of the Gael’s players yelling at the top of his lungs throughout the doubles portion of the match, the sort of volume that would drive a grandparent crazy.

“Let’s gooooo Simon,” Masciorini yelled out in response, egging on teammate and senior captain Simon Freund. During that match, Masciorini made sure, no matter what, that his voice was heard.

“I wasn’t going to let this guy from the visiting team just be louder than me,” Masciorini said. “I also wanted to show the freshmen not just how to cheer, but also how to have fun with it.”

During UCSB’s March 14 match against Gonzaga, Masciorini’s constant clapping and support for his teammates irritated the Bulldogs so much that a game official had to come over to warn him about “taunting.” Yet after the game, the Gonzaga team came up to Masciorini to tell him how his cheering had thrown them off their game, helping to establish the home-court advantage that UCSB is renowned for.

Through it all, Masciorini has kept the promise he told himself — the same statement that God told him — not to give up.

When he first started practicing, he wasn’t sure he would either fully regain where he had been the season before.

“I had doubts. Was it really the injury, or did I just lose it?” he said. “It had been five to six months since I had played consistently… maybe I just lost my skill.”

As he kept working, however, he began to see glimpses of what had made him such a strong player in the past, even if only for moments. Slowly, those glimpses began to morph into full sets, and soon, full matches.

In a challenge match a few weeks ago, Masciorini found himself against a freshman on the team who had beaten him easily in the fall. After the initial match in fall, Masciorini found Davis’ clipboard, with notes that implied that he would never contribute to the team.

This match was different from the get-go. Determined to prove that he could compete — that, if given the opportunity, he would win at six — Masciorini came out firing, winning the match easily.

When Davis came by to check the score, Masciorini had five simple words for him: “Don’t count me out, coach.”

“That was a defining moment for me,” he said. “I proved that no matter what others thought, I was making the comeback I knew I could, that God knew I could.”

After a year of helping the team off the court, of sacrificing to help the team no matter how he could, Masciorini finally got his shot against UC Riverside.

It was just like the old days; Masciorini laced up, working on his forehand, backhand, ensuring his serve was strong. Before he knew it, it was game time.

“In a lot of ways it felt like it was my first-ever match for UCSB all over again. I was really nervous but mostly excited to be back out there,” he said.

On the court, Masciorini demonstrated that he still had it, that he could still play at a high level. After helping his team win the doubles point, he dominated his singles opponent, winning in two sets, 6-1, 6-0.

“It felt like I didn’t miss a beat since my last match at six,” he said. “I played really well, and it felt good that all the hours of rehab payed off.”

As his time at Santa Barbara comes to a close, Masciorini remembers fondly one question he was asked before he came: What do you want to get out of college tennis?

When he responded by saying he wanted to leave a legacy, he meant a legacy of awards and records, a legacy of on-court production. While individually that didn’t come to fruition, Masciorini ultimately accomplished his goal.

He has left a legacy of team success. If the Gauchos win the title, he will be only the second ever player in Santa Barbara history to be on a team that wins four consecutive conference titles.

He has left a legacy of buying into the team concept, of putting the team first.

And he has left a legacy of perseverance, a man of faith, a man who refused to give up despite the odds, a legacy that will serve to inspire the freshmen he mentored for years to come.

Masciorini knows that match may have been his last ever in a Gaucho uniform and knows he may not be called upon to play in the postseason. But as he has done all year, Masciorini won’t complain, won’t grumble, but will do whatever the team needs to be successful. And, if he is called upon, don’t count him out.

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