In order for the UCSB women’s tennis team to advance to the national tournament it must win the Big West Tournament to receive an automatic bid.

The Gauchos have only a small shot at receiving an at-large bid.

One of the youngest teams in the conference, Santa Barbara will send five freshmen and one senior to 2003 Big West Women’s Tennis Championships in Blackhawk Country Club in Danville. The fourth-seeded Gauchos will face fifth-seeded Cal State Northridge in the first round of the tournament on Friday at 1 p.m.

Currently ranked #68 in the nation, the Gauchos finished the regular season at 15-7.

“I thought we accomplished a lot for having such a young team,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “One of our top goals was to be in the top 75.”

Senior sensation Uzma Khan leads the young squad. She finished the season with a 22-0 record at the #1 singles slot and 32-2 overall.

“She was incredible, I would say unprecedented,” Kirkwood said. “She is going to lead us into the Big West.”

The Gauchos defeated the Matadors 6-1 on March 27 at Northridge Tennis Complex. Northridge will most likely field the same slots according to Kirkwood. Despite the victory over the Matadors, UCSB will face a solid team.

“We expect a very tough match against Northridge,” Kirkwood said. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”

If the Gauchos get past the first round, they will likely face #60 Cal Poly. The Mustangs defeated Santa Barbara 4-3 on Feb. 27. Second seed and #56 Long Beach State upended UCSB 4-3 and third seed and #64 Irvine scorched the Gauchos 6-1.

“To win the Big West, you have to beat three nationally ranked teams,” Kirkwood said. “I think the girls have to rise to the challenge. One, two and three need to continue to be our strength. We also need four, five and six to step it up.”

The top six players include Khan, junior Jen Kuhle and freshmen Marielle Gruenig, Andrea Pintar, Leslie Damion and Amy Vyhnis.

“They have been through the battles with ranked teams,” Kirkwood said. “We’ve played enough matches. They know what the tournament is all about.”

Despite the team’s youth, the players do not feel any added pressure.

“Because we are a young team we do not have a lot of pressure,” Gruenig said. “Uzma is a good leader and we will follow her.”

The tournament begins today, and continues through Sunday’s championship match at noon.

On Thursday the matchups include eighth seed Riverside vs. ninth seed Utah State, seventh seed Idaho vs. 10th seed Cal State Fullerton.

On Friday LBSU vs. Idaho/Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly vs. UCR/USU, UCSB vs. CSUN, and Irvine vs. sixth seed Pacific.

“Everyone is very healthy and ready to go,” Kirkwood said.

Team leader Khan is optimistic about UCSB’s chances in the tournament.

“We have a great chance to win,” Khan said. “We have been working very hard. We are prepared and ready to play. It’s going to be great.”