The UCSB men’s tennis team has set a lofty goal for this new season: win a Big West championship.

Second-year Head Coach Marty Davis leads a Gaucho team of talented freshman and tested veterans into the 2001 campaign. Santa Barbara’s quest for a Big West tournament title will make this an exciting season to come, while the youth movement merges with the grizzled veterans.

“We’re very pumped up for this year,” junior co-captain Marcio Pepe said. “We have great chemistry on the team.”

Santa Barbara comes into the season as underdogs in its conference. Pre-season rankings placed the Gauchos fifth in the conference, behind Boise State, Pacific, Irvine, and Cal Poly. Though critics may not expect much from UCSB this season, the team understands it will be its play that determines how their season unfolds.

Being underdogs in the conference has not affected the Gauchos’ concentration on their season goal of becoming champions. Pepe believes that being seen as an underdog will help the team maintain the competitive edge necessary to earn respect and keep the players hungry.

“Everyone will have to play solid,” sophomore J.J. Stewart said. “As much as it’s an individual sport, it’s really a team effort.”

UCSB will look for junior co-captains Pepe and Marcin Kosakowski to provide leadership and freshmen Scott Schnugg, Alex Yaftali, Mike Placek, and Jerome Chan to provide consistent heads-up play in singles and doubles matches. Though this season’s team is young, it is much deeper than last year’s squad. It will not be unusual for Santa Barbara to field three freshmen in singles play, and two all-freshmen doubles teams. Kosakowski believes his teammates will play well.

“Our team is young,” Kosakowski said. “But we’ll get some great individual performances. We have some outstanding new freshmen.”

The road to a Big West title will not be easy for the Gauchos. UCSB’s schedule is filled with numerous ranked opponents from both the Big West Conference and the Pac-10, including a tough game Tuesday against #13 USC at Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is then home for three crucial matches. The first is against Loyola Marymount, followed by Georgia Tech and then Irvine on Feb. 11. Davis points out that a bitter rivalry has developed between the Anteaters and UCSB.

“We’d love to get a bunch of Gaucho Locos out for that match,” Davis said.

Pepe expressed how much he enjoys playing against Irvine, but he underlined the fact that Irvine is always a tough match.

“It’s very fun,” Pepe said. “But we just hate them. We don’t like their coach and we don’t like their team.”

All Gaucho home matches will be played at the RecCen. Other important games on the Santa Barbara schedule include home matches against Harvard, #6 Southern Methodist, and Cal Poly, another big conference rival.

“We will play hard in the early games,” Pepe said. “But by April we want our play to be peaking.”

The Big West Championships begin on April 26. Santa Barbara should be playing the best tennis of its season going into the tournament. Hopefully, it will leave the tournament as Big West Champions.

“This is the year,” Pepe said. “I can feel it. This is the year to step it up.”