It was a heartbreaking weekend for the #69 UCSB men’s tennis team as they dropped a pair of matches in Arizona.
The Gauchos (4-3 overall) went down to the final match against #58 Arizona on Friday only to lose in a nail-biting third set tiebreaker 4-3. Saturday’s match against #55 Arizona State proved to be just as tough, again going down to the wire resulting in another 4-3 defeat.
“Well there are a lot of positives,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “We played very well, the disappointing thing was to come so close.”
Friday’s match against Arizona started off poorly for the Gauchos, as they were swept in doubles play to give the Wildcats an early 1-0 lead. Freshman Bijan Hejazi, moving up to the #3 spot, got the Gauchos on the board with a 6-4, 6-4 win to bring the match to 2-1 after a loss by junior Elad Stern.
Freshman Carsten Thorstensen has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Gauchos this season, as he’s recorded tough wins in singles against #18 USC and #70 Brigham Young. His play was awarded with the first Big West Player of the Week honor of the season.
“[Thorstensen] has really been terrific and he deserved that honor,” Davis said. “Our freshmen are really doing great.”
Thorstensen dropped his match against Arizona, 3-6, 6-7(4-7) to put the Wildcats up 3-1. Santa Barbara tied the match at three with wins by sophomore Anders Dalskov and freshman Max Taylor in the #5 and #6 positions, respectively.
It all came down to the #1 spot as senior Nick Brotman played one of the most exciting matches of the season against Arizona senior Roger Matalonga, ranked #18. Matalonga fought off 11 match points before taking the third set tiebreaker 12-10 and clinching the match 6-3, 5-7, 6-6 (12-10) to give the Gauchos the 4-3 loss.
The Gauchos had to rebound from Friday’s nail-biter quickly, as they faced undefeated Arizona State the next day. Close matches that come down to 4-3 scores only reinforce just how important the doubles point can be. Saturday, UCSB again lost the double’s point 2-1, their 5th consecutive loss in doubles.
“In the doubles we had two match points at #2 doubles, if we won either of those points we would have won 4-3,” Davis said.
At #1 singles, Brotman showed a lot of toughness as he bounced back from the painful loss with a 7-5, 6-4 win. Wins by Hejazi and Dalskov tied the match at 3-3, until ASU freshman T.J. Bellama clinched the match for the Sun Devils with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Taylor, sending UCSB home with its second consecutive 4-3 defeat.
While the close losses are hard to swallow, this early in the season they can only help the team in the long run.
“Out of our 7 matches, 4 of them have gone 4-3, so everyone’s battle-tested having played so many pressure situations already and that’s going to help us,” Davis said. “We only need to get one or two points better which is something we can do.”
The schedule does not get any easier for the Gauchos as they continue on the road, facing Washington on Friday followed by a showdown with #14 Denver on Sunday.