Coaches preach “team before self” incessantly. When the NCAA selection committee announced the individual brackets for the Men’s Tennis Championships on Wednesday, they took those words right out of UCSB Head Coach Marty Davis’ mouth and dropped the ball.
Despite an unbelievable run through the Big West Championships, the selection committee served up a royal slap in the face to Santa Barbara and its star player junior Carlos Palencia. Palencia is currently ranked No. 58 in the country, and 64 players are invited to compete in the tournament. The Gauchos were so dominant that they did not drop a single match en route to claiming an automatic bid to the NCAA Tourney.
“We are very disappointed, and Carlos is clearly very disappointed,” Davis said. “Some of it I understand, but some of it I don’t. The NCAA favors regional representation, and we [are in a strong region.] The selection committee uses slightly different criteria than the national rankings.”
Palencia was obviously shaken by the news of being skipped over for lesser players from other regions.
“I am really disappointed. I think that my season was really good,” he said. “I deserved to go, but they chose the other players.”
No matter how flustered Palencia and others in the program are about the snubbing of the Big West Player of the Year, the Gauchos still need to focus on the team match that looms Saturday afternoon. Santa Barbara received the No. 60 seed overall and will face off against UCLA, who earned the No. 4 seed.
The two teams met in the first match of the season this year, and it was not a good showing for Santa Barbara. UCSB fell 6-1, with their lone point coming from a dominating performance by Palencia who defeated Bruin No. 1 Jean-Julien Rojer 6-1, 6-2. However, the Gauchos are quick to point out that they have improved over the course of the season since the opening match.
“We are a completely different team now,” senior co-captain Marcio Pepe said. “Everyone just started to click towards the end of the season, and we started beating everyone. Then our confidence changed, and we are playing more as a team and with more energy. We have nothing to lose.”
One thing that UCSB will be counting on to get them off on the right foot is its doubles play, which is the first portion of the match. Santa Barbara has won the first point, the doubles point, in all 10 of its last 10 matches.
“All of our matchups are really good,” Palencia said. “But the doubles point is really important. If we win that, they might get scared.”
Palencia’s coach echoed his sentiments.
“If we can get the doubles point and get off to a good start,” Davis said, “then we might win. We have been playing great doubles, and if we can get our teeth into this match, we will be tough to shake.”
Despite the emphasis that the coaches and players are placing on the doubles point, Davis knows that they need to relax and continue to do the things that have gotten them to where they are already.
“We have a lot of guys who just love to compete, and we should just go out there and have fun,” Davis said of his expectations for Saturday’s match. “This is what we have worked hard for all year long.”