With one of its deepest squads in recent memory, the UCSB men’s tennis team has its eye on the Big West Championship as they begin their regular season this weekend.

After finishing a close third in the Big West last season, Santa Barbara is poised to continue its push toward the top of the conference. This season, the Gauchos feature a solid mix of veterans and newcomers – a lineup that includes six freshmen, all with the potential of seeing playing time.

Leading the charge for the Gauchos individually is senior Nick Brotman, who earned first team All-Big West in both singles and doubles last season. During preseason in the fall, Brotman won the back draw of the Wilson/ITA West Regional and posted an overall record of 6-2. For UCSB to achieve its Big West Championship aspirations, Brotman will have to be on the top of his game.

The story for the Gauchos this season, however, is their youth movement. Santa Barbara will feature six freshmen on its roster, balanced by some of the top juniors in the country. These young players will likely see a lot of action and will challenge UCSB returnees for top spots in the lineup. Among this crop of talented impact freshmen is Bijan Hejazi, who ranked #31 in the nation among junior players last year and was one of the most sought-after California recruits.

Also with a strong chance of starting in singles for the Gauchos is freshman Max Taylor, who was the top-ranked junior player in Northern California and ranked as high as 26th in the nation. Taylor made a name for himself in the preseason, when he advanced to the semifinal round of the Santa Clara Bronco Classic – an impressive feat for a first-college tournament appearance.

The freshmen movement is not restricted to singles – UCSB will also feature some of the state’s strongest junior doubles players that will be likely starters in doubles and could possibly see action in singles. Among these strong doubles players is freshman Scott Hohenstein, who was one of the top junior doubles players in Southern California and won the celebrated Ojai High School doubles championship last year. Local Santa Barbara High School product Grant Robertson is another strong doubles player who will likely see plenty of action playing for UCSB.

With all of these talented freshmen, Santa Barbara’s returnees will need to assume more of a leadership role, as well as battle these freshmen for their starting spots – sophomore Anders Dalskov, a second team All-Big West selection in doubles last season, will likely see a lot of doubles action. Also returning to the UCSB squad is junior Elad Stern, co-captain on the team, who will be a leader for the Gauchos, both vocally and by example.

Last season, the Gauchos finished with an overall record of 11-13 and took a third-place finish at the Big West Championship, losing a hotly contested semifinal match to Pacific – it was the fifth year in a row that they finished in the top three of the tournament. With all of the young new faces, UCSB is looking golden for the next few years – but in order for the Gauchos to finally take the Big West crown this year, the future will have to be now.