After five straight matches on the road, the UCSB men’s tennis team returns home this weekend to take on a familiar Big West Conference rival.

Hampered with injuries to key starters, the Gauchos (2-6 overall) have lost five of their last six matches, but have only played one home match on the season – a 1-6 loss to #19 Boise State. On Saturday, UCSB will return to the home court to open its Big West season against Cal Poly.

“It is an important match because it’s our first conference match,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “Our conference season dictates the seeding for the conference tournament, and we’re still going to be without some of our starters so it won’t be easy.”

The Gauchos were in action last weekend on the road against #29 Cal, Davis and #73 Santa Clara. They were defeated by the Bears (4-4) 7-0 but rebounded with a 5-2 win over Davis (0-0) and closed the weekend with a 1-6 loss to Santa Clara (8-4). With injuries to senior Elad Stern, freshman Philip Therp and junior Jack Hui, Santa Barbara has had a great deal of movement in its lineup, and less-experienced players have filled the void. Junior Anders Dalskov has jumped to the #2 spot in the lineup, while freshman Max Taylor, who started the season playing sixth, has moved ahead to the third position. Freshman Josh Finkelstein and sophomores Nigel Barton and Grant Robertson, fill out the rest of the singles lineup, gaining valuable experience for the remainder of the season.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress, especially in the doubles play,” Davis said. “The guys that have had to step in now have three matches of experience under their belt.”

Saturday’s match against Cal Poly (3-4) will provide a good early-season test for Santa Barbara, as the Mustangs are a team it could face down the line in the Big West Tournament. Cal Poly currently owns a 3-4 record, but feature an experienced squad that has been ranked 74th nationally in the early stages of this season. The Mustangs are led by their new coach Justin McGrath, who finished last season ranked 36th at the helm of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“They’ve got a new coach and a lot of enthusiasm,” Davis said. “We really feel like they’re a program on the rise.”

With all of the adversity, it has been difficult for UCSB to get in a quality practice. Despite that, the Gauchos have improved in doubles play, even with significant shifts in the lineup. Last weekend, each of Santa Barbara’s doubles tandems earned a win, including a win from Finkelstein and Barton over one of California’s pairings. UCSB is hoping that while it may not have been able to get in a good practice, the rest will prove valuable.

“We haven’t really had the opportunity with midterms, injuries and rain to get as much practice in as we’d like,” Davis said. “The good thing is that we should be well rested.”

Saturday’s match against Cal Poly gets underway at 1 p.m. on the Rec Cen Tennis Courts.