The UCSB women’s tennis team ended its season with mixed emotions.
The Gauchos, led by the seemingly invincible senior Uzma Khan, bowed out of the 2003 Big West Tournament in the semifinals in a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Cal Poly but still managed to compile one of the most successful seasons of any team in the history of UCSB women’s tennis.
“When you look back, we did some great things this year,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “But we had the team to win [the Big West Championship] this season. We believe that if we pulled out a win against Cal Poly we would have gone on to win in the championships.”
Santa Barbara ended its season with a 16-8 overall record and cracked the national rankings, tagging the #68 spot in the final poll. All of the Gauchos’ eight losses came at the hands of teams ranked in the top 75 nationally. UCSB even knocked off three top-75 squads in 2003. The Gauchos went just 6-19 overall last season with a 2-5 mark in the Big West.
“We felt like we were right there,” Kirkwood said.
Khan was largely responsible for the Gauchos’ success this season. The 2003 Big West Player of the Year recorded an astounding 24-0 dual record at No. 1 singles and has not lost a match since October of 2002. Khan posted a 10-0 record against Big West No. 1 singles foes as well. Khan, who transferred from the University of Arizona after her freshman year, ended the season ranked #87 nationally by the Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis poll.
Khan was snubbed from the individual NCAA Tournament in 2003 despite registering a perfect record and losing only five games all year long. Selection committee personnel said that her strength of schedule was not up to par with some of the athletes who competed at larger conferences such as the Pac-10.
“It is one of the biggest rip-offs of all time,” Kirkwood said. “She’s definitely one of the best 64 players in the country and you would think that the committee would see someone who has gone undefeated and let her keep going until she is knocked off. Basically, [this year’s NCAA Tournament] was a Pac-10 Fest. Somebody that goes 1-10 against ranked players will get priority over somebody like Uzma.”
Khan will return to UCSB and to the women’s tennis team but not as a player. The native of Hyderabad, India, will join Kirkwood’s coaching staff as an assistant while she finishes up her B.A. in biology at Santa Barbara. Khan, who plans on going to medical school after next year, may play some professional tournaments and see how it goes, but tennis is not her only passion.
“Her main objective is her education,” Kirkwood said. “She came to UCSB for the sciences, and she may have sacrificed tennis for school but she’s very competitive.”
Replacing someone like Khan is nearly an impossible task for any coach, but Kirkwood is confident about the depth of his squad in 2004. Freshman Marielle Gruenig, who joined the Gauchos in January and played very well at No. 2 singles, will likely move to No. 1 singles. With a team comprised of younger players, Kirkwood expects his team to continue to thrive at the doubles points but step it up at the four, five and six singles spots.