This weekend stands as an important stretch of the season for the UCSB men’s tennis team as it hosts two key conference matches.

The Gauchos (3-15 overall, 1-1 in the Big West) will host three consecutive home matches this weekend, beginning with Friday’s clash against #56 Denver (11-5). Santa Barbara will then play two huge Big West matches that will have postseason implications, facing Irvine (9-9, 2-0 Big West) on Saturday and Riverside (9-9, 1-1 in the Big West) on Sunday.

“We’re very focused on Irvine and Riverside,” Head Coach Marty Davis. “We’re doing a lot of serving this week, and we want to be in peak physical condition for the Big West championships, so we’ll have a pretty intense week of practice.”

UCSB snapped a nine-match losing streak last Friday with a critical 6-1 win over conference foe Pacific (2-15, 0-4 Big West). The Gauchos earned singles wins from freshman Philip Therp and junior Jack Hui, who both recently returned to the lineup after battling wrist injuries for the most of the season. Therp, limited to a one-handed backhand for the rest of the month, defeated Tiger senior Alan Kelly 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, his second singles win since returning three matches ago. Hui played his first singles match in over six weeks against Pacific and won in straight sets 7-5, 6-3. While injuries have hampered the Gauchos all season, these players are returning at just the right time for UCSB to make a run at a second consecutive Big West crown.

Wins in this weekend’s conference matches would go a long way towards securing one of the top seeds in the Big West championships, which are just over two weeks away. Saturday’s match against Irvine is especially critical, as the Anteaters are tied with Cal Poly (8-12, 2-0 Big West) for the top record in the Big West. Because it is their biggest match to date, the Gauchos are likely to have their largest crowd on hand at the Rec Cen Tennis Courts.

“I think the guys are pretty psyched,” Davis said. “We’ve kind of had Irvine circled on our schedule and I think we’re going to have a pretty big crowd on hand. From my perspective, I’m a little concerned about being so psyched for Irvine that we’ll fall flat against Riverside.”

Sunday’s match against Riverside will also have serious postseason implications, as the Highlanders are lingering near the middle of the Big West pack along with the Gauchos. Riverside was most recently in action last Wednesday when Irvine swept the Highlanders 7-0. The Highlanders also have a critical weekend ahead, as they will face Cal Poly on the road on Saturday before traveling to Santa Barbara.

Friday’s match against Denver will get underway at 1:30 p.m., while Saturday and Sunday’s clashes against Irvine and Riverside begin at 1p.m. All matches will be played on the Rec Cen Tennis Courts.