The #62 UCSB men’s tennis team is gearing up for its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament this week, and the Gauchos are doing it in a slightly different fashion than some of the other teams around the country.
While most teams are leaning heavily on the leadership and experience of their junior and senior players, Santa Barbara plunges headlong into the postseason riding the coattails of three freshman stars: Nicholas Brotman, Michael Frick and Mirco Schwindt.
“They have all gradually gotten better and better,” fourth-year UCSB Head Coach Marty Davis said. “The transition from juniors tennis to college tennis is huge. In college you need to have weapons to finish points that most juniors players don’t have. We practice those finishing skills all year long, and they usually start to click in around the last quarter of the year, and I think that you can see that in their results.”
If having weapons to finish points is what Davis wants his players to own, then all three of his talented youngsters possess a fully loaded arsenal.
Schwindt, who plays #2 singles, has won eight of his last 10 matches. Frick, who plays #5 singles, has won six of his last eight matches. And Brotman, who plays #6 singles, is currently riding a seven-match winning streak.
But the newcomers’ success is not just limited to singles; it translates into doubles play as well.
“The finishing weapons that we practice relate to success in the doubles game as well,” Davis said, “because they are what you need to finish points.”
Schwindt, paired with senior Carlos Palencia for most of the season at #1 doubles, has picked up his doubles game considerably, capturing six doubles matches in a row.
Davis paired Brotman and Frick together as a doubles team at the beginning of April. After dropping their first outing together, they have gone on a seven-match tear in which they have not dropped a match.
“At first it was tough to adjust to Coach Davis’ ideas of how to play,” Frick said, “but after a while, it just clicked in all of us. It is a simple yet tough idea of how to play, but we just got used to it and now it is very comfortable to play that way.”
But team success cannot lie on the shoulders of three young freshmen; it must come from each and every member on the squad.
“We are more talented and younger than we were last year,” Davis said. “And we are also less experienced. But I think that we are deeper and stronger than last year. We have been dominant in April at the #5 and #6 singles, and #3 doubles spots, and that has been huge for us.”
Perhaps equally as significant for the Gauchos was an emotional win over then #39 University of San Diego.
The Gauchos, who have been knocking on the door of the elite teams in the country for the last season and a half, have yet to crack the top 50 in the national rankings. That did not mean that they felt as though they didn’t belong.
“We know that we are a good team,” Palencia said, “but I don’t know if before that match we always believed it. With that win we proved to ourselves that we are a top team, and it gave us the confidence to play even better.”
“It is one thing to think that you are good,” Davis said, “and it is another thing to prove it. Against San Diego, we proved it.”