If life is a journey, then junior tennis start Carlos Palencia could be likened to Odysseus.
The 20-year-old from Cordoba, Mexico has played for three different schools in the last four years, and, like Odysseus at Ithaca, has finally found a home at UCSB.
“[Palencia] came here as a great player,” UCSB Head Coach Marty Davis said of his new number one player. “Anything we are doing to him now is just fine tuning.”
Palencia graduated from JAGP High School in 1999 as a three-time national junior singles champion and five-time doubles champion in Mexico. With such impressive credentials, Palencia decided to attend junior college after high school at The College of the Desert, where he finished first in doubles and second in singles in the state junior college rankings last year.
Despite all his travels, Palencia is happy to finally be at the pinnacle of NCAA competition at the Division-I level.
“The coach here is much better than any other coach I have ever had before,” Palencia said of Davis. “He has helped me a lot with my server and it is much better than it used to be. Overall our team is much stronger than any other team I have played with before, and there is a chemistry about this team that is very good.”
Talk to any of the players on the men’s tennis team, they will all tell you how focused and excited they are about this year’s team. But talk to Palencia about the team this year, and a huge smile grows across his face.
“Our first priority was to get ranked, and we have accomplished that,” Palencia remarked Wednesday, alluding to the team’s ranking of No. 74 in the country. The ranking is the first for the Gauchos in four years. “So far we have played really well all year and we really want to win.”
All last year senior Marcin Kosakowski played at No. 1 in singles. This year he has stepped aside and allowed Palencia to assume that honor. Although this might seem like a tremendous opportunity for conflict within the team, senior co-captain Marcio Pepe assures that it is not.
“Carlos playing at No. 1 just makes everyone else stronger, Kosakowski said. “It puts pressure on everyone else to produce. On this team we have had success as individuals, but not as a team. That is what Carlos and everyone else wants.”
Although the team is this year’s focus, Palencia has also set some lofty goals for himself. He is hoping to be the second Gaucho in three years to win the Big West Championship and advance to the National Championships. Simon Shen accomplished that goal in 2000, but Palencia hopes to do him one better. Reiterating his focus on the team, Palencia is also determined to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the doubles as well.
“He has already put himself in the hunt for the NCAAs at singles,” Davis said. Palencia is currently ranked seventy-fourth in the nation – the top 64 get invitations to the year-end tournament. “He has to move up a few spots, but he will have plenty of opportunities to do that. In doubles, he and Marcin need to have some more good matches like they had up in Washington, and they are just starting to gel.”
Palencia cemented his status as a bona fide threat to win the Big West singles title this season when he defeated UCLA’s Jean-Julien Rojer, the then No. 18 player in the country. Though the team fell to the Bruins by a score of 6-1, the Gauchos bounced back to sweep Gonzaga in their next match, 7-0, in an impressive display of tennis.
It is this type of individual and team play that Palencia hopes will bring Santa Barbara, and his skills, to national prominence. But no matter what happens for Palencia here at UCSB, one thing is clear: his journey will not end when his college career is over.