The road for the UCSB women’s tennis team has had its share of twists and turns along the way this season.
But while Santa Barbara’s season started on a bumpy road, it ended with a smooth ride.
After starting the season 0-8, the Gaucho netters lost only three of their next 11 matches to finish the season with a 9-13 mark, while going 1-5 in the Big West.
There were many factors that contributed to the Gauchos’ late blooming. Their first nine matches were at various road locations, and many of these matchups were played on three consecutive days, a tough situation for any athlete.
“The travel was very difficult,” freshman AnneMarie Lenze said. “It was very tiring to play three games in three days and then have to travel home.”
A wrist injury to sophomore Uzma Khan, the highly touted transfer from Arizona, also affected the team early in the season. After undergoing surgery, Khan was expected back for UCSB’s home debut March 3 against Riverside. But the wrist was not completely healed by the projected date, and she was forced to wait one week longer, first competing in the March 11 matchup against Louisville.
It didn’t take long for Khan’s presence to be felt. After Santa Barbara dropped its first two games with Khan in the line up, it went on a tear to capture victories in the following five matches. Khan finished her short season, mainly in the #3 singles spot, with an impressive 9-3 record. After UCSB captured its first victory of the season, the kinks worked themselves out and the wins started to come.
“We knew we had a talented team,” junior Shiho Fukushima said. “It was just a matter of getting that first win to get us going.”
The Gauchos showed the resiliency of competitive athletes when they refused to throw in the towel after finding themselves with a sub-par 1-10 record. Instead, UCSB just fought harder. With that work ethic and perseverance, things fell into place for Santa Barbara when it hit full stride in the middle of the season.
“As a team, we really came together to get past a lot of obstacles,” senior Gaby Andrade said.
UCSB closed out its season in winning fashion, streaking to victory in seven of the last nine matches it played. The Gauchos couldn’t have picked a better time to peak, as they were playing some of its best tennis right in time for the conference championships.
Santa Barbara took a #4 ranking in a field of nine teams down to Ojai to compete in the Big West tournament. UCSB scorched its archenemy, #5 Cal Poly, in a 5-2 decision to open tournament play for both squads before Long Beach State put an end to UCSB’s recent tear the following day. Competing in the semifinals, LBSU recorded its 17th consecutive victory to end the Gauchos’ season.
“We finished the season strong,” Lenze said. “We worked hard and reached the goals that we set for ourselves. We beat Cal Poly and we showed that we could even compete with the #1 seed in the tournament. It was a very positive ending.”