The UCSB women’s tennis team will play their first match of the winter season at Pepperdine at 1:30 p.m. today. The Gauchos will be tested early against a tough Pepperdine team.

“Pepperdine is ranked 40th in preseason, but is traditionally ranked higher. They are a tough team,” Head Coach Peter Kirkwood said.

The Gauchos were ranked 71st in the nation at the end of last season and enter the preseason ranked 75th.

“The goal of every team is to make the top 75. If you are on the top 75 you are on the map,” Kirkwood said.

The players feel that the Pepperdine match will be a difficult test to start the season.

“I would consider Pepperdine as one of the toughest teams out there,” senior captain Chelsea Dillon said. “Being the first match of the year, it will be a great chance to come out and play.”

“The best thing about playing Pepperdine is that there is no pressure on us. We are the underdog, so if we win it will be great, but they have to win,” sophomore Marielle Gruenig said.

The Gauchos return a strong squad that features All-Big West selections Gruenig and sophomore Andrea Pintar. Santa Barbara lost only one player from last season; however, it was a big loss. Uzma Kahn left after graduation and finished with a 24-0 record in dual matches and 34-2 record overall. Kahn now remains with the Gauchos as a coach.

“This game will allow the girls to find out where they are in their game and what exactly they will need to work on,” Kahn said. “They have two big matches against Riverside and Fullerton coming up, and they need to utilize this opportunity as a learning experience.”

Kahn was the Gauchos number one player last season and has been coaching the girls through intense practices this season.

“This year we have been practicing differently than past years. Through all the practice we have really improved our footwork,” Pintar said.

The girls have been practicing since fall, both with individual workouts and group practice. After months of practicing the team is ready to start the season.

“I have been coaching here for 10 years and this is the most hardworking, ready-to-go group of girls I have coached,” Kirkwood said. “The team lineup is almost exactly the same as it was last year, with the exception of Uzma. It is a younger team this year, but through experience, I feel they will do very well.”

Playing first in the singles match against Pepperdine will be #1 Gruenig, followed by Pintar, sophomore Leslie Damion, senior Jen Kuhle, sophomore Amy Vyhnis and freshman Kristen Wilson. The first doubles team will be Gruenig and Kuhle, tailed by Pintar and Damion, and Vyhnis and Dillon.

“This will definitely not be an easy match, but we are capable of winning. As long as we believe in ourselves, it could happen,” Kirkwood said.