The UCSB women’s tennis team has been sitting on the backburner all season long, but the team finally found the missing ingredient for a winning recipe.
The Gauchos exploded out of their slump with a weekend road sweep of Cal State Fullerton and Riverside aided by great production form an unexpected source.
The difference between this match and many others this season was the emergence of senior Shiho Fukushima. As the Gauchos’ No. 5 singles player and junior Uzma Khan’s partner on the top doubles team, Fukushima, a walk on, had struggled against some opponents, most of whom are scholarship players.
However, Fukushima came into her own this weekend, winning both of her singles and doubles matches. Her victories included an impressive straight set 6-0, 6-0 shutout in her singles match against Riverside on Saturday.
“She was awesome,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said of Fukushima. “She was the shining star.”
With Fukushima’s spark, the Gauchos turned around a familiar 2-5 losing score into a 4-3 victory over Fullerton on Friday. Michelle Stewart gave Santa Barbara an extra lift on Saturday, earning a win after her opponent retired in the second set. Stewart was winning 6-2, 1-0 at the time.
The extra point gave the Gauchos a 5-2 team victory over Riverside and some momentum going into this weekend’s Big West Tournament in Ojai.
“If we can win the doubles point, we’re capable of beating just about anybody on a given day,” Kirkwood said.
The Gauchos improved to 5-18 overall and 2-5 in the Big West. Kirkwood believes that the team will receive the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament. This would be both good and bad for the Gauchos, as they would be matched up against the bottom seed in the first round, but would likely play the top seed in the second round.
Khan and senior Cindy Ammann, Santa Barbara’s top two singles players, rolled over both their opponents in straight sets. Khan won her match 6-2, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1 while Ammann cruised to 6-0, 6-1 and 6-4, 6-2 victories.
Khan extended her singles winning streak to ten-consecutive matches, improving her overall record to 20-3 on the season. Ammann extended her unbeaten streak to five matches, and has the same season record as Khan.
A final piece of good news for the Gauchos came when Kirkwood was named to the five person selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. Khan is on the bubble for getting an invitation and should have a good shot if she can finish the season strong, according to Kirkwood.