A season that began with high expectations and excitement for the UCSB men’s tennis team in January turned into frustrating setbacks in February and March, before finally ending the last weekend of April at the Big West Conference Tournament in Ojai, California.
The past season was filled with highs and lows for the Gauchos. At various times throughout the year, Santa Barbara played strong and aggressive tennis, but at other times failed to perform at the consistently high level the team was capable of reaching. UCSB finished the season with a 6-17 record.
“I thought the season was a great experience, but I wish we could’ve done better,” junior co-Captain Marcin Kosakowski said. “We were always so close, but just couldn’t break through.”
Even after a challenging regular season, in which the Gauchos were 1-3 against Big West teams, Santa Barbara came together as a team and played its best tennis in the Big West Tournament. UCSB entered tournament play having just come off of what freshman Alex Yaftali described as the most disappointing loss of the season. The Gauchos fell to Cal Poly in their season finale at home.
“The lowest point for the teams this year was after the last match against Cal Poly,” Yaftali said. “That was the lowest we’d been all year, I think.”
Instead of letting disappointment keep the team feeling down, Santa Barbara used its loss to Cal Poly as motivation to work harder in preparation for the Big West Tournament. The hard work paid off in a 4-2 rematch win over the Mustangs in the first round of the tournament.
“We really wanted to win [against Cal Poly],” junior co-Captain Marcio Pepe said. “The team had a really good vibe. We played really aggressive. We played every point to win, not to lose.”
Santa Barbara’s obtainment of vengeance over Cal Poly ranked as one of the best team performances of the year. Kosakowski attributes the team’s performance against Cal Poly to the fact that UCSB had finally begun to gel as a squad.
“During the whole trip [to the Big West Tournament] we felt like a team,” Kosakowski said. Everybody was upbeat and really determined to win. There was no doubt in our minds. We just stepped up and played.”
Although Irvine would eliminate the Gauchos in the semi-finals in the next round, the team’s performance against Cal Poly illustrated how well the team is capable of playing. Freshman Mike Placek believes that this year’s difficulties will help UCSB become a better team next year.
“We all fought hard,” Placek said. “I think everybody stepped their games up towards the end of the season. I could see everybody getting better from the beginning of this year to the end.”
The Gauchos have already developed high expectations for themselves next year. Santa Barbara will lose only one senior from this season’s squad to graduation, and is expecting several top recruits to join in the mix next season.
“I think we’re a Top 30 team [in the nation] next year,” Kosakowski said. “We’re getting a couple of nationally ranked freshmen that should come in and contribute right away.”
Even as UCSB gains experience and adds new talent for the future, Pepe believes the most important thing the Gauchos must do next season is play as a team.
“This is a team sport,” Pepe said. “We need to have team unity or it’s not going to work. I felt the team really came together at the end of this year. I think that’ll motivate us to work harder for next year.”