Hampered by injuries for much of the 2007 campaign, the UCSB men’s tennis team enters the final stretch of the season with a renewed sense of optimism as key players return to action.

The Gauchos (2-14 overall, 0-1 in the Big West) have not been on the court since last Sunday, when they lost their ninth consecutive match to Dartmouth at home, 2-5. More promising than the outcome, however, was the return of freshman Philip Therp and junior Jack Hui, who have each missed considerable time due to injury.

One of the Gauchos’ two singles wins against Dartmouth came from Therp, who was playing in his first match in six weeks after being sidelined with a wrist injury. Playing in the number three position, Therp defeated Dartmouth junior Jeff Schechtman in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6. Despite the loss, Therp’s impressive comeback effort was a positive sign for UCSB and earned him a career-first Big West Player of the Week honor.

Also returning to Santa Barbara’s lineup was Hui, who was the Gauchos’ number two option at singles before suffering a wrist injury nearly six weeks ago. Hui did not play singles in UCSB’s most recent match against Dartmouth, but he teamed with sophomore Bijan Hejazi at number one doubles, where they fell in a close match 8-6.

Since hosting Dartmouth last weekend, the Gauchos have had considerable time to rest and practice, as they do not return to action until this Friday when they visit conference rival Pacific. Friday’s match will be the first of the final six matches for Santa Barbara before the Big West Championships start on April 27. Though they have had a lackluster record thus far due in large part to injuries, if the Gauchos can capture key wins against Big West foes in the coming weeks they may be in good shape to defend their conference title.

The two-week layoff will give Hui and Therp more time to practice and readjust for this important stretch of the season. In their absence, several UCSB players that did not begin the season in the lineup have had to step in and make big contributions. Freshman Josh Finkelstein and sophomores Grant Robertson and Nigel Barton have all earned valuable experience in both singles and doubles, and will give the Gauchos much needed depth as they try to make a run for the postseason.