The normally spirited and sometimes fierce rivalry between the Cal Poly and UCSB women’s tennis teams had some of the wind taken out of its sails as Santa Barbara sent a ‘B’ team to the Cal Poly Invitational this past Friday and Saturday.
With both the Mustangs and Cal State Northridge – the other participant at the tournament – playing at full strength, an inexperienced and mostly freshman Gaucho squad failed to win a single match against either team. UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood described the tourney in terms of progress instead of results.
“It was a way to get practice in,” Kirkwood said of the long layoff between the fall and spring seasons. “[It was a] small, insignificant tournament, and, after the regionals, there were two weeks of practice. So we decided to play this tournament.”
Paramount on Kirkwood’s mind right now is the success of the team when Cal Poly visits January 11 to begin the spring season.
Kirkwood is extremely confident and expects big results from his girls, especially senior Uzma Khan, who is widely considered the best player in the Big West. Last season, Khan earned Big West First Team honors for singles play.
“We’re definitely going to be contenders for the Big West Title,” Kirkwood said. “We’re really strong one through eight. Our biggest strength is definitely at number one with Uzma. Last year, she went 22-4, which is an unbelievable record.”
Following the Big West Player of the Year candidate in the playing sequence will be a host of talented freshmen who made names for themselves during fall play.
Freshman Andrea Pintar, who played number one singles for the first time at the Cal Poly Invitational, could find herself playing number two on a regular basis when spring season starts. Fellow freshmen Leslie Damion and Ashley Maddocks may make a run for the three and four spots and provide help to Khan in trying to grab important doubles points in team play.
“We’ll be looking at Leslie or Ashley to play doubles with Uzma. We need to find a good doubles partnership. There are five teams that are contenders in the Big West, and that doubles point could make the difference,” Kirkwood said.
Maddocks is as confident as her coach.
“I think we have a really good chance of winning the Big West. Our team is super strong. Our team, one through six, can beat anyone on any given day. It just depends on how we work as a team,” Maddocks said.
Following a fall season where Khan went 11-3, won the Cal State Fullerton Tournament and posted a very strong showing at the prestigious Omni Hotels Southern California Region Championships, Kirkwood is sure that her final season will be her opus at UCSB.
“Uzma is definitely the best player in the conference. I don’t think anybody could beat her right now,” Kirkwood said. “She’s really motivated and wants to go out with a bang.”