The #62 UCSB men’s tennis team took the first step toward defending its Big West crown on Thursday afternoon.

In a display of complete dominance, the Gauchos whipped and humbled UC Riverside, pulling out a convincing 5-0 win in the opening-round match of the Big West Tennis Championships at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville.

Unlike most of the NCAA tennis matches, tournament games begin with singles play, and teams only play the doubles matches if it will affect the outcome of the match. The outcome of Thursday’s match was never in jeopardy, and the Gaucho players saved their energy by avoiding doubles play.

Senior Carlos Palencia, the defending Big West Conference Player of the Year, won his 16th match of the season by defeating Highlanders’ freshman Norman Tam 6-3, 7-5 at #1 singles.

At #2 singles, freshman Mirco Schwindt cruised past junior Brent Davis 6-2, 6-2. Schwindt, who provided a huge lift in Santa Barbara’s upset win last weekend over the University of San Diego, has been playing great tennis recently. The Gauchos will continue to rely on Schwindt’s consistent play as they chase their second Big West title.

At #3 singles, junior Mike Placek downed junior Derek Betyar 6-1, 6-3, while freshman Michael Frick defeated freshman Jordan Leo with little effort 6-2, 7-5 at the #5 spot. Another freshman with a hot hand, Nicholas Brotman, upended freshman Justin Betyar 6-3, 6-1.

All of the matches were played simultaneously at the Blackhawk Country Club. Once the outcome of the match was determined, play would be suspended. Sophomore Alex Anselme had his match suspended despite leading 6-4, 5-4 over senior Dan Stevens.

The Gauchos received a bye in the first round of the Big West tourney last year and then won both the semifinal and final matches 4-0. Including last year’s tournament, Santa Barbara has not dropped a match in the tournament in two years.

UCSB will face Irvine today at 3 p.m. The Anteaters advanced by virtue of their 4-0 victory over Utah State. The championship match begins at noon on Saturday.