The UCSB women’s tennis team has endured its share of hardship this year, but you would never know it by the smiles on the players’ cake-covered faces after Sunday’s home finale.
The Gauchos were unable to put together a winning effort on Senior Day, falling to Portland 5-2 under overcast skies on the Rob Gym courts. Santa Barbara’s No. 1 and No. 2 starters, Uzma Khan and Cindy Ammann, were able to secure individual match victories.
“It seems like this happens every time,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said, referring to Saturday’s score, which the Gauchos have seen time and time again this season.
Santa Barbara’s struggles began when several of the top players on the team quit early in the year, forcing the team to play with several walk-ons, according to Kirkwood. The departures have resulted in a tough 3-18 season for the all the Gauchos, especially for seniors Ammann and Shiho Fukushima in their final season.
The two seniors, who played their final home matches on Sunday, both encompass everything this team is about. Ammann, who carries the highest GPA on the team and is a captain for the second straight year, is the team’s No. 2 singles player behind Khan. She has been a first team All-Big West selection the last three years, and Kirkwood doesn’t expect anything different this year after her 17-3 personal record.
Ammann also started a mini food fight after the match by smearing a piece of cake in Kirkwood’s face. “You just can’t replace someone like that,” Kirkwood said as he wiped the chocolate and strawberry cake off his hat and jacket.
Ammann credits her positive experience at UCSB to her team’s unselfish attitude.
“Usually girls get jealous of one another,” she said. “We all care about each other and I’m really proud of everyone who has stuck through it.”
Fukushima, a walk-on, exudes the never-say-die spirit behind the Gauchos in only her second season. When Santa Barbara lost some of its scholarship players, walk-ons like Fukushima had to fill the void.
“I consider myself really lucky to get a walk-on like Shiho,” Kirkwood said, pointing out that Fukushima had to play against scholarship players in almost every match.
Both seniors will graduate in four years, something that brings both pride and sadness to Kirkwood.
“We have a history of graduating players in four years. It’s great for them, but I’m always sad that they won’t be around any more,” he said.
Ammann plans to attend graduate school in her native Switzerland and Fukushima intends to teach English in Japan before getting her MBA.