A season that ends with a conference title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament can be difficult to top, but the #70 UCSB men’s tennis team will be looking to do just that as it opens its season this weekend.

After finishing last season with a 15-11 overall record and the Big West championship, the Gauchos will be looking to pick up where they left off as they host Brigham Young University and travel to Pepperdine this weekend to kickoff their 2007 campaign. With the majority of last season’s squad returning and some promising newcomers, the future is looking bright for Santa Barbara.

“I’m very optimistic about this season, I think this is the best team I’ve ever coached,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “Our goals are pretty lofty, we think we can get to the NCAA Sweet 16.”

One of Santa Barbara’s strongest assets this season will be its experience, with seven players returning from last season. Led by Big West Freshman of the Year Bijan Hejazi, the Gauchos had a strong group of freshmen contributors last season, all returning with the exception of Carsten Thorstensen, who transferred. Hejazi, who also earned First Team All-Big West recognition, will start the season in the #1 singles spot for Santa Barbara.

“[Hejazi] has improved quite a bit,” Davis said. “He didn’t have a very good summer but he had a good fall. He’s improved his serve and his overhead game and he’s a better player than he was last season.”

Also returning to the team are senior Elad Stern – a strong vocal leader and the team’s captain – and junior Anders Dalskov, who earned Second Team All-Big West honors in singles and First Team in doubles. While the Big West Tournament experience provides the returnees with the knowledge of what it takes to get there, the Gauchos also had a strong showing against Cal in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament despite the loss.

“I think [the experience] helps us a lot,” Davis said. “The NCAA Tournament experience we had really helps us. We played Cal really close and I think that gave us a lot of confidence and most of our team is returning.”

The most notable loss for the Gauchos was Nicholas Brotman, who wrapped his career at UCSB with a stellar senior season that earned him the Big West Player of the Year award. But Santa Barbara has some talented newcomers to compensate for the loss. Perhaps the player to watch for the Gauchos will be junior Jack Hui, who transferred from College of the Desert. Hui was undefeated in singles play last season while leading his team to the state title and was also the winner of the California Community College singles title.

With a tough schedule ahead, the path towards the postseason will not be easy for UCSB, and this weekend’s matches are no exception. Saturday UCSB faces a formidable opponent in #73 BYU at 11 a.m. on the Rec Cen tennis courts, and Sunday the Gauchos will play a road match against #10 Pepperdine, the defending national champion.

“Those are very tough matches to start the season with but I’m hoping we can get off to a good start,” Davis said.