Experience is the one thing every coach wants to start the season with, and #69 UCSB women’s tennis Head Coach Pete Kirkwood has just that.

The Gauchos are starting their season off with the top six players returning, giving the Gauchos continuity and experience.

“We are very experienced,” Kirkwood said. “There are no weaknesses in spots one through six. It gives us a little bit of an advantage [going into the season]. There is good chemistry and we pull together and push each other to the common goal of winning.”

Leading the Gauchos is senior Marielle Gruenig. Last year, Gruenig recorded the best record at No. 1 singles with a 19 – 2 record. She also defeated Northridge’s Silvia Gutierrez to take the Big West singles championships in 2005 for the second year in a row. In addition to the 19-2 record at No. 1 singles, Gruenig, along with senior Chelsea Glynn, earned First Team All Big West in 2005.

“Marielle is a leader, she is one of those players that a coach is fortunate to have on a team,” Kirkwood said. “She is self-motivated – coaches appreciate that. You don’t have to figure out what buttons to push – she is a mature, solid leader.”

In addition to the five seniors that are returning for the Gauchos, there is also the lone underclassman, sophomore Charlotte Scatliffe, who will be playing at No. 5 singles this year. Scatliffe had a successful freshman season with a 13-8 record at the No. 4 singles in 2005.

“Charlotte is only getting better and better.” Kirkwood said, “She has all the tools and she is getting more discipline and getting better at her shot selections. She now has more belief that she can win and is playing with more maturity and a positive attitude. She is a hard worker on the court and in the weight room – she has no room to go but up.”

The Gauchos start their season with five straight matches on the road, with matches today at #12 UCLA and at #46 Fresno State on Jan. 28.

“Our first two matches are exciting. Long Beach and Fresno State are ranked 12 and 46 in the nation,” Kirkwood said. “It will show us how far we need to go to consider ourselves an elite team.”

UCLA will provide stiff competition for the Gauchos. The Bruins defeated Loyola Marymount for their season opener 7-0.

“UCLA is traditionally a super-power, they are a Pac-10 team and it’s never easy for a Big West team to beat a Pac-10 team,” Kirkwood said. “But we are not going to be intimidated. We are going to try to keep them on the court for as long as possible and match them point for point. We will not be in awe.”

The match at UCLA is slated to start today at 1:30 p.m.