Nicolas Moreno de Alboran runs to send the ball back to his opponent. Christina DeMarzo / Daily NexusAfter going undefeated in conference play en route to its fourth consecutive Big West title, the UCSB men’s tennis team punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Now, however, the Gauchos will have their biggest challenge of the season: a first round matchup against No.10 USC (17-8, 6-2) in front of a hostile away crowd in Los Angeles.

The Gauchos (18-6, 5-0) enter the match looking to make waves on the national level; while they have made it to four straight tournaments, they have failed to make it past the first round on each occasion.

This year, however, this team has momentum on its side. Winners of ten straight matches—including a 43-0 point differential in their last seven matches—Santa Barbara is a very different team than it was earlier in the season when the Gauchos faltered to a 6-5 start.

When these two teams did meet up for the second match of the year, the Trojans won the match in dominant fashion by a score of 6-1. The only victory for the Gauchos on that day came from freshman Victor Krustev, although senior captain Simon Freund, sophomore Joseph Guillin and junior Nicolas Moreno de Alboran all pushed their opponents to three sets.

However, Santa Barbara has developed into a much more consistent team as the season has worn on. Moreno de Alboran has won 11 of his last 12 matches and was recently named the Big West Player of the Year. In addition, Freund and Guillin were named All-Big West first team singles. In particular, Guillin has shown significant growth as the season has worn on, finishing the season 19-2 despite moving his way up to the two spot.

USC remained fairly dominant throughout the entirety of the season, finishing the season 8-3 at home. Their only two conference losses of the season came against UCLA, who is currently ranked No.1 in the country.

The Gauchos will likely have to depend on their singles players more than usual, as USC has been nearly unbeatable in doubles play this year. On court one, they are 17-5 on the season, while on court two they are 17-4.

One of the more intriguing matchups between the two sides will be the match between Moreno de Alboran and USC sophomore Brandon Holt, who is currently the No.10-ranked singles player in the country. When the two first met, Holt eked out a victory in three sets — a trend Moreno de Alboran will surely look to reverse this go around.

In addition, Guillin will have his hands full on court two, as he will be matched up against No.74 freshman Daniel Cukierman, who has a 13-5 record at the No. 2 spot. If the Gauchos hope to keep up with the high-powered Trojan team, they will likely have to pull off an upset in at least one of those matchups.

Where USC is more vulnerable, however, is at the lower court spots. They are 11-10 on court three, 9-8 on court four, and 11-9 on court five — all places where the Gauchos can potentially pick up victories.

On court three, Freund is riding a 10-game winning streak, playing some of the best tennis of his career. On court four, junior Anders Holm, who was recently named All-Big West second team, will look to use his experience to pick up a key victory for the ’Chos.

The Gauchos know they will have their work cut out for them; after all, they are facing a top ten team on the road. But they also know that to make the waves they want to make, to be a national powerhouse, they have to beat the best.

The Gauchos will take on the Trojans on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Marks Tennis Center on the USC campus.

A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the May 10, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.

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