After a season of hard work, it was time to celebrate for the UCSB men’s tennis team as it won the Big West Championship over the weekend.

The top-seeded Gauchos had a first-round bye, then defeated Cal Poly 4-2 before an epic 4-3 victory over Pacific that gave them the conference crown. With the win, UCSB earns a bid to the NCAA Tournament this weekend where they will likely face either Pepperdine or UCLA.

“To win the Big West Championship, you have to have a great team and you have to come together,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “There was no margin for error. Everybody stuck together and it just shows how tough they are.”

In Saturday’s semifinals, the Gauchos faced #5 Cal Poly, which defeated UC Riverside on Friday. UCSB took the doubles point 2-1, with wins from the #1 tandem of senior Nick Brotman and sophomore Anders Dalskov and the #3 pair, junior Elad Stern and freshman Bijan Hejazi.

In singles, Hejazi defeated his opponent 7-5, 6-3, while his doubles partner Stern eased through his match 6-2, 6-4. Like Hejazi, freshman Max Taylor was clearly not intimidated in his first Big West tournament, sealing the Gaucho victory with a 6-1, 6-3 win.

After #2 Pacific disposed of UC Irvine in Saturday’s semifinals, the Gauchos faced the Tigers in Sunday’s championship match. The latter team took an early 1-0 lead after it dominated doubles play, meaning UCSB had to take four singles matches to secure the victory.

Taylor had an easy time at the #6 spot as he defeated his opponent 6-1, 6-2, while Hejazi was once again dominant with a 6-3, 6-1 win. Pacific took a 3-2 lead with wins over freshman Scott Hohenstein at #5 and Dalskov at #3.

For the #1 singles match, Brotman faced off against last season’s Big West Player of the Year, Pacific senior Arnar Sigurdsson. After a hotly contested first set that Brotman took 7-6, Sigurdsson powered his way to a second-set 6-0 shutout. Cheered on by a loud audience that included the UCSB women’s tennis team, which stayed in Indian Wells to offer its support, Brotman took the third set 6-3 and the match 7-6, 0-6, 6-2.

“He’s a pretty consistent player – he doesn’t miss anything,” Brotman said. “I knew it was up to me and I knew I had to go for it. I kept telling myself to make it happen.”

With the teams tied at three, it all came down to Stern’s #4 singles match. After dropping the first set 6-0, Stern bounced back to take the second set 7-5. The intensity peaked in the third set, with Stern struggling through hand and leg cramps.

“Elad clearly had very little left physically,” Davis said. “It was extremely hot on the court and it was a very physical match so it was all about heart and being tough.”

Playing through pain with the weight of the season on his shoulders, Stern showed tremendous spirit as he pulled through and took the set 6-2 to win the match and the Big West Championship 0-6, 7-5, 6-2.

“I really wanted to win for my team, especially after we worked so hard this year – I couldn’t think of losing after it came down to me, and I managed to win it,” Stern said. “When I finally got the match point I threw my racket down and everybody came out on the court and we all jumped around. It was an amazing feeling; you just live for those moments.”

With their first conference title since 2003 in hand, the Gauchos will now turn their attention to preparing for the NCAA tournament slated to begin this weekend.

“I wouldn’t want to be the team that has to play us,” Davis said.