For the second consecutive year the UCSB men’s tennis team is heading to the Big Dance.

Behind a gritty performance from senior team ace and 2002 Big West Player of the Year Carlos Palencia, the #62 Gauchos defeated top-seeded University of the Pacific 4-3 at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville, Calif.

With the match scored tied at 3-3 against the Tigers, Palencia found some strength that maybe even he did not know that he possessed. The senior from Cordova, Mexico rallied to win the decisive final match 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Palencia, who has been a winner wherever he has gone, put the finishing touches on his team’s second Big West Championship in the two years that he has been at UCSB.

But Palencia wasn’t the only Gaucho to come up big on Sunday. Sophomore Alex Anselme won his match at #4 singles easily 6-2, 6-2. At #6 singles, freshman Nick Brotman won his match convincingly 6-3, 6-2.

But Sunday was not just about singles play. Needing to win their match to secure the doubles point for the Gauchos, the freshman duo of Michael Frick and Brotman won a match for the ages, surviving the grueling match 9-8.

Much of the credit for Santa Barbara’s recent rise in national prominence is due to fifth-year Head Coach Marty Davis. Davis took over an underachieving Gaucho program, and turned it into the eminent favorite in the Big West for years to come.

Davis originally designed a five-year plan in which he hoped to follow and eventually arrive at a conference championship. But last year he and his players accidentally stumbled upon a championship a season early. Davis wasn’t complaining.

The Gauchos will now wait for today’s announcements on the pairings for the 2003 NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship before they start making preparations for their second trip to the Big Dance in as many years.

Santa Barbara advanced to the finals by defeating UC Irvine easily 4-0. The match marked the sixth consecutive Big West Tournament match in which the Gauchos did not lose a match. The finals against the Tigers marked the first time that Santa Barbara dropped a match in two years of tournament competition.

With impressive results in its last seven matches, all of which UCSB has won, Santa Barbara is poised to make a serious run in this year’s NCAA Tournament.