In a season that saw the UCSB men’s tennis team win the Big West Championship, return to the NCAA Tournament, and move back into national prominence, it is easy to imagine why everyone involved in the program had nothing but good things to say about the Gaucho netters’ 2002 campaign.
“We made those two goals for the last two years, but we never accomplished them,” senior co-captain Marcio Pepe said. “Failing made us work harder and harder. It really was our motivation. When [UCSB Head Coach Marty Davis] came into this program three years ago, I knew that we were going to be a powerhouse, and although we are very far from that right now, at least we have taken the first step.”
The biggest impact on the season possibly came before the first serve could be delivered. Davis convinced junior Carlos Palencia, a talented star from Cordoba, Mexico, to come and play at UCSB. Palencia lived up to the expectations placed on him before the season started.
“I think that I really helped the team this year by practicing hard every day,” Palencia said. “And hopefully that set an example to the rest of the guys of how hard we should practice. Also, Marcin played No. 1 last year, and by having him play the No. 2 this year, it really helped our team. Especially at the end of the year, he was impossible to beat, and that made our team much stronger.”
Palencia, the Big West Player of the Year, never lost a singles or doubles match in conference play all season. He also posted impressive victories over several ranked opponents and finished the season ranked 58th in the nation.
Another dynamic newcomer for Santa Barbara was freshman Alex Anselme. Anselme brought his special brand of athleticism and fire to the RecCen Courts and played most of the season in the No. 3 or No. 4 spot.
Fresh blood was not the only thing to drive the Gauchos. Two senior co-captains, Marcin Kosakowski and Pepe became the emotional and verbal leaders. The two combined to spark UCSB to several key wins late in the season including a rare pairing together at No. 1 doubles in their final home match against cross-town rivals Westmont.
“When I was recruited to play here, chemistry and energy was stressed to me,” Pepe said. “Marcin and I have just been trying to keep it going. Marty has helped a lot because he is very energetic and loves competition, so he instills that in all of us. We have a lot of energy in our young guys as well.”
The crowning achievement to the 2002 campaign was the Gauchos’ unbelievable display of dominance at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club in the Big West Championships on April 26-27. Santa Barbara received the No. 1 seed and a buy in the first round, but faced a tough Idaho team in the semi-finals. Unfazed, UCSB calmly dispensed the potato heads, 4-0.
In the final, Santa Barbara expected to face a more formidable challenge in the University of the Pacific. The Gauchos again flexed their muscles, and rolled to another 4-0 strafing. Kosakowski was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Despite all of this year’s success, it is impossible for Santa Barbara not to be excited about their future next year.
“You never know what to expect next year, but we just want to keep riding this wave,” Anselme said. “There are going to be a lot of contenders for that No. 1 spot, and that is going to make all of us better. We are all pretty excited.”