It’s been a long, tough road for the UCSB women’s tennis team, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The light is the Big West Tournament in Ojai, which begins on Thursday and runs through the weekend. Thanks to the strong performances of senior Shiho Fukushima and freshman Michelle Stewart recently, the Gauchos’ light has grown brighter.
The two were able to pull out their singles matches over Riverside in the team’s last match on April 13. Fukushima also combined with junior Uzma Khan to win the doubles point. The victories, combined with Khan’s and senior Cindy Ammann’s singles points, were enough to give the team a solid 5-2 victory.
Santa Barbara will face Riverside again on Thursday in the opening round of the tournament. UCSB comes in as the seventh seed, Riverside as the 10th.
“That’s what we were hoping for,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said of the seeding.
Kirkwood and the team feel confident about their seeding, knowing they can beat the Highlanders.
“It was a good way to finish the season,” Kirkwood said. “It gave us some confidence going into Ojai. I think it really proved to the girls that they belong here.”
Fukushima knows how important her role is in securing a first-round victory. Her sudden improvement has keyed the team’s turnaround.
“As long as we win the doubles point, we gain momentum, which makes it easier for us to compete,” Fukushima said.
Despite defeating Riverside less than two weeks ago, UCSB stressed the importance of not overlooking its first-round match toward a potential second-round match with Long Beach State.
“We don’t want to go in overly confident,” sophomore Chelsea Dillon said. “But if we play well, we should win.”
If the Gauchos win, it will be their third consecutive victory. They will then match up against a Long Beach State team that defeated the Gauchos 5-2 on April 6. The good news for the Gauchos is that Khan and Ammann both took their matches in straight sets. The bad news is that the team didn’t win another set in singles or doubles the rest of the way.
“We can really put some pressure on Long Beach by winning the doubles point,” Kirkland said. “Shiho and Uzma haven’t lost a match at the number one doubles spot, so if they can step up and one other person can win a singles match, we can beat them.”