A conference championship, an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and a little bit of respect are all at stake for the resurging UCSB women’s tennis team this weekend at the Big West Tournament.

Nearly a month ago, victory at the Big West championships, located in an oasis in the barren deserts of Indian Wells, Calif., once appeared more like an unrealistic mirage than an attainable goal. Yet, tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m., Santa Barbara will compete in the first round of the 2005 Big West Tournament with expectations to bring home a title. UCSB (14-7 overall, 5-2 in the Big West) faces off against the winner of today’s play-in match between #7 Riverside (8-11, 2-7) and #10 Idaho (6-6, 0-0).

“We are thinking that Riverside will win but we can’t really prepare for another team,” junior #1 singles Marielle Gruenig said. “We all believe in ourselves and that’s all we can do going into a tournament like this.”

The Gaucho have astonished the rest of the conference this month, posting four straight conference wins to secure the #2 seed and were tabbed #65 nationally by the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. Gruenig has won 16 of her last 17 matches and has made her case for Big West Player of the Year.

If the Gauchos can get past Riverside, they would likely do battle with #3 Long Beach State (12-10, 5-2) in the second round. UCSB downed the 49ers 4-3 on the road on April 9 in a pivotal seed-determining match. The winner of the contest would likely face the #1 seed Pacific (17-5, 6-0), a team that pummeled the Gauchos 5-2 on Feb. 27.

“We’re just trying to go in with confidence and not take anything for granted,” junior #2 singles Chelsea Glynn said. “We feel confident having played so many matches that we can beat anybody.”

Although Santa Barbara has proven its strength all season long with solid singles play, the Gauchos remain susceptible at the doubles point. In its victories over Long Beach State and Cal Poly last week, UCSB lost the doubles point each time but were able to rebound and take a majority of the singles points.

“We’re all really good singles players because we hit baseline,” Glynn said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past with doubles. Hopefully we can get better for the tournament.”

Temperatures are expected to be in the high 80s to low 90s by game time this afternoon.

“We’ve just been drinking a lot of water,” Glynn said. “But everyone competing will be in the same boat so I don’t worry about it too much.”