The Bulls have done it. The Lakers were the last to do it. Now the #64 UCSB men’s tennis team will fight to accomplish a three-peat.
This weekend, the Gauchos will travel to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the Big West Championships. As a reward for its dominant play during the regular season – having earned the #1 seed – UCSB was granted a first-round bye.
“We’ll be sitting in the shade while everyone else is playing,” Head Coach Marty Davis said.
The winner of the tournament will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After a win over #71-ranked San Diego State last weekend, the Gauchos have taken the week off in order to prepare for the tournament. As an added bonus, senior Mike Placek, Santa Barbara’s most tenured player, returns to the squad. Placek missed the previous two matches due to a knee injury. The Gauchos are also feeling confident after several solid practices this week.
“Everyone is working really hard; there is a great level of enthusiasm,” Placek said. “I can see the desire in our eyes. You can tell everyone really wants it. We’ve stepped it up to another level.”
Davis plans to make sure the Gauchos continue what they’ve been doing all year.
“We’re going to continue to work on fitness; it’s helped us win a lot of close matches,” Davis said. “We’ve been very physically sound all year.”
UCSB will face the winner of the match between the fourth and fifth seeds – Cal Poly and the University of Idaho, respectively. Either team should be a challenge.
UCSB’s lone conference loss came at the hands of the Mustangs on April 18. The Gauchos narrowly dropped the 4-3 decision. The loss, however, happened when Placek was still on the shelf with his injury. Idaho, on the other hand, was the only Big West opponent UCSB didn’t play this year.
“Either match would be a challenge, but we still have the practical advantage over everyone else, only having to beat two opponents as opposed to three,” Davis said.
The other two teams most likely to challenge the Gauchos for the Big West throne are #2-seeded UC Irvine and #3-seeded University of the Pacific. UCSB knocked off Irvine 4-3 earlier this season, but it will be no pushover. Irvine presents a formidable challenge, as the Anteaters feature the #21 nationally ranked doubles team of Brian Morton and Jon Endrikat.
The Pacific Tigers are anxious to break through, having been on the losing end of the Big West finals match for the last two years. Pacific was upset last year by the #2-seeded Gauchos when the Tigers had the #1 seed.
A third consecutive Big West title would mark a tremendous turnaround for a program once buried in the conference.
“It would feel great to win another one,” Placek said. “My freshman year, I didn’t know if we would be able to turn it around, but this would be awesome to finish it off this way.”
UCSB finished the regular season 12-7 overall and 4-1 in the Big West.