With the regular season winding down, the UCSB women’s tennis team’s temperature appears to be blazing hot.
The Gauchos (12-5 overall, 4-2 in the Big West) raced past Fullerton on Friday afternoon at home before holding off #74 Long Beach State (11-9 overall, 4-2 Big West) in an epic 4-3 road victory Saturday that has propelled Santa Barbara into prime position to capture a two-seed in the upcoming Big West Championship.
With the score knotted at 3-3, junior #1 singles Marielle Gruenig outlasted LBSU senior #1 singles Nicole Bouffler 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 to score the match’s deciding point.
“I didn’t know that the score was 3-3 while I was playing, but I suspected it,” Gruenig said. “Everyone was on the sideline cheering me so loudly, which made me want to win so badly. It felt so great to beat them.” Gruenig, ranked #96 nationally, battled deep into the third set with her 49er counterpart. After losing the second set, she stormed out to 3-1 to start the final frame. Bouffler rallied and took the next three games before Gruenig tied up the score at 4-4. With Gruenig serving, both players refused to give in as a seesaw battle ensued with several break points. Gruenig ultimately prevailed to win the game, but Bouffler answered by winning the next two games to take a 6-5 advantage. Gruenig tied up the match 6-6 and edged her opponent 7-4 in the tiebreaker to win the game, set and her 14th straight match at #1 singles to send the Gauchos to victory over their conference rival.
“She’s a special player,” UCSB Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “If I had one player out there with my life on the line, I would have her playing.”
The day before, Santa Barbara had cruised to victory over Fullerton at the Rob Gym courts, blanking the Titans 7-0 to set up Saturday’s showdown. UCSB swept all three doubles matches and won each singles match in straight sets.
The 49ers swiped the doubles point against Santa Barbara, securing victories at the #1 and #3 doubles spots. But the Gauchos took four of six singles points, with wins from junior #3 Andrea Pintar, freshman #4 Charlotte Scatliffe and junior #4 Leslie Damion, in addition to Gruenig’s dramatic victory.
Santa Barbara hosts conference rival Cal Poly Wednesday at 2 p.m. in both teams’ Big West regular-season finale. The Mustangs (8-8 overall, 4-2 Big West) lost to #32 Sacramento State 6-1 on Saturday. Wednesday’s contest at the Rob Gym courts will decide seeding positions for the playoffs later this month. A victory over Cal Poly would ensure the Gauchos a top-three spot in the Big West Championship later this month. A loss could slip Santa Barbara down the ladder as far as the five-seed.
“[Saturday’s win] was good, but it’s not the Big West Championship. We may have to play [LBSU] again in the playoffs,” Gruenig said. “I’m very confident that if we play the same way we played [against LBSU], I think we can beat Cal Poly.”