The UCSB men’s tennis team is loving it at the top. Powerful performances from the top half of Santa Barbara’s lineup in both singles and doubles propelled the Gauchos (12-9 overall, 4-0 Big West) to a 4-3 victory over UC Irvine to clinch their third consecutive regular season title and the #1 seed in the Big West Tournament. The road win was followed up with a 5-2 home loss to #47 Fresno State.
“We’ve played well both days at the top of the lineup, so we’re really doing well at the top,” Head Coach Marty Davis said.
First place in the Big West was up for grabs Saturday at Irvine, as the Anteaters had just one loss in conference play going into the match. The Gauchos took the important doubles point with 8-6 wins from the #1 tandem of senior Nick Brotman and sophomore Anders Dalskov, and the #2 duo of freshmen Scott Hohenstein and Carsten Thorstensen.
“We’re improving in doubles,” Davis said. “Number one is doing ok, #2 is improving and #3 doubles is a fairly new team [junior Elad Stern and freshman Max Taylor] that has improved a lot.”
In #1 singles, Brotman continued his hot play of late, easing through his match 6-3, 6-2. Dalskov put the Gauchos up 3-0 with a 6-4, 7-5 win in the #3 spot.
“I was really pumped for that match,” Brotman said. “I’d rather it not be that close – I think we could do better.”
Irvine bounced back as it took care of Santa Barbara’s bottom three, with Stern falling 6-1, 7-5 and Thorstensen and Taylor losing 6-1, 7-5 and 7-6, 6-4, respectively which left the match tied at three.
The game’s outcome rested on the shoulders of freshman Bijan Hejazi, who has made a strong run for Big West Freshman of the Year honors. Hejazi bounced back from a first-set loss to win the second set 7-5. Hejazi powered through the third set to win 6-3, taking the match to seal the win and the #1 seed for the Gauchos 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
“Once I realized the match depended on my match, I totally focused,” Hejazi said. “I give a lot of credit to the cheering, it really carried me to victory.”
On Sunday against Fresno State, Brotman defeated the #63 singles player in the nation, Bulldog junior Jakub Cech, in three sets 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. The win was Brotman’s eighth in his last nine matches.
“The difference for [Brotman] is his composure on the court,” Hejazi said. “He plays every point the same, and that wears on guys a lot of the time.”
Hejazi was also on his game once again for UCSB, rallying from a set down to defeat his opponent 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Fresno dominated the rest of the match, taking three out of four singles matches in straight sets to secure a 5-2 win.
Friday will be Senior Day for the Gauchos as they play their last home match of the season against UC Santa Cruz on the Rec Cen tennis courts. In addition, during the next two weeks the team will be scrupulously preparing for the upcoming conference championships, which begin April 28.
“The next couple weeks are going to be really rigorous – we’re going to be working so hard that we aren’t going to allow ourselves to lose,” Hejazi said.