The UCSB men’s tennis team will look to prove its Big West supremacy, as it takes the #1 seed into the conference tournament this weekend.
After wrapping up their third consecutive regular season Big West title with an undefeated conference record, the Gauchos (13-9 overall, 4-0 in the Big West) will have a first-round bye before taking on the winner of the UC Riverside/Cal Poly match Saturday. UCSB wrapped up its regular season and paid tribute to its seniors with a 4-3 home win over UC Santa Cruz on Friday.
Prior to Friday’s singles matches, UCSB saluted seniors Hagen Brody and Nick Brotman, as they were appearing in their final home match of the year. Though he has not seen a great deal of action, Brody, a team co-captain, has been an off-the-court leader for the young Gaucho squad. Brotman has had a stellar season at the #1 spot for UCSB – posting a singles record of 19-11 overall and earning three Big West Player of the Week awards this year alone – and he is a strong candidate for Big West Player of the Year honors.
“I totally will miss college tennis,” Brotman said. “This year has been so much fun and hopefully I will finish it off with the Big West Championship.”
Leading the charge in singles for the Gauchos along with Brotman has been freshman Bijan Hejazi, who has produced an 18-6 overall record in singles and appears to be a virtual shoo-in for Big West Freshman of the Year honors. Against UC Santa Cruz, Hejazi took a competitive first set 7-5, then thoroughly dominated his opponent in the second set 6-0 to win the match.
UCSB also got strong singles performances against Santa Cruz from junior Elad Stern and freshman Scott Hohenstein, who was playing in place of freshman Carsten Thorstensen, who was forced to sit out the match due to illness. Sophomore Anders Dalskov came through for UCSB as he took the tiebreaker 10-4 and the match 6-3, 6-7, (10-4).
“All of our guys compete well and I think all our guys look forward to that day where it all comes down to their court. … That’s one of the neat things about this team,” Head Coach Marty Davis said.
The experience the Gauchos have had in close matches should work to their advantage in the conference tournament, as they have gone 5-3 in matches that have been decided by one point. Doubles play has been an area of improvement for UCSB all season and has been an important emphasis at practice, since winning the doubles point could mean the difference between a 4-3 win and a 3-4 loss.
Santa Barbara also hopes to have a fitness advantage in the conference tournament, as they have gone through a rigorous training program all season. In addition to team practices, players have also been training with coaches on an individual basis. In the weather conditions of Indian Wells, Calif., endurance will be key.
“We’re clearly the fittest team stamina-wise, so fitness will be in our favor,” Davis said. “They’re not going to wilt in the heat and that could be an advantage.”
Pacific and UC Irvine, the #1-seeded Gauchos’ toughest challengers, will be at the opposite side of the draw. After a first-round bye, Santa Barbara will face UC Riverside or Cal Poly. The Gauchos dominated Cal Poly on the road 7-0 and had a near win at Riverside as they led 3-0 and were serving for the match when it began to rain and the match was called off.