The #71 UCSB men’s tennis team has reigned supreme over its conference and now it’s ready for the big show.
The Big West Champion Gauchos will travel to Stanford this weekend for opening-round action of the NCAA tournament, in which they will face #20 Cal. After finishing the season with an overall record of 15-10 and a conference title, UCSB hopes to add tournament success to its list of accomplishments.
“We’re pretty pumped up and pretty excited; it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Head Coach Marty Davis, a Cal alumnus and former assistant coach with the Golden Bear program, said. “Our goal is to be a sweet 16 program, so we’re only two matches away from achieving that goal.”
Saturday, the Gauchos will play their opening-round match against Cal, who comes into the tournament unseeded. Whichever team comes out on top will face off against the winner of the Stanford/Quinnipiac match that is also being played Saturday. The team that advances will go on to the round of 16, which is also being hosted by Stanford as it hosts both the men’s and women’s championships from the round of 16 onward.
“I think we took a little bit of a break to catch up on school, but our practices have been really good. We’ve been focusing a lot on serving,” Davis said.
If UCSB hopes to pull off the upset, Santa Barbara’s top two players, senior Nick Brotman and freshman Bijan Hejazi will likely have to anchor the bid.
“[Brotman and Hejazi] have been playing terrific over the last month and a half or so, so for them, this is a great opportunity,” Davis said.
Brotman, this season’s Big West Player of the Year, has played white-hot tennis in the #1 singles spot at the latter part of the season, going 10-2 in his last 12 matches. Brotman will have his hands full against Cal as he faces Golden Bears senior Conor Niland, the sixth-ranked singles player in the nation and the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
Cal features a ranked singles player at the #2 spot as well, as junior Tyler Browne is ranked 89th. He will square off against Hejazi, who was honored last week with the Big West Freshman of the Year award and First Team All-Big West honors. The matchup of the two-headed monsters at the top of the lineup for both the Gauchos and the Bears will be the highlight of Saturday’s action – a win at either the #1 or #2 singles spot will be key for the UCSB if it is to come out on top.
“None of the matches are easy – they’re a tough team,” Davis said. “But we feel like we can compete with them in every match.”
Doubles play has been an area of improvement for the Gauchos throughout the season, though their doubles performance in the Big West Championship match against Pacific was underwhelming, as they lopsidedly lost the point. Winning the doubles point against Cal would set the tone for the Gauchos, giving them a quick 1-0 lead going into singles instead of having to face the daunting task of winning four out of six singles matches.
Saturday’s action gets underway at 9 a.m. at Stanford’s Taube Stadium.