The UCSB men’s tennis team will put its postseason hopes on the line this weekend when it travels to Indian Wells to play in the Big West Championships.
After a season hampered by injuries, the healthier Gauchos (4-18 overall, 2-2 in the Big West) will be looking to defend the conference title they won a year ago. Third-seeded UCSB will have a first-round bye, but will then take on second-seeded Irvine (11-11, 3-1 Big West) on Saturday morning.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all season,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “We’re not 100 percent but we’re still healthy enough to win it.”
After a nine-match losing streak, Santa Barbara has a 2-4 record in its last six contests and, with the exception of a 1-6 loss to Fresno State, three of those losses have been by only one point. UCSB’s better play of late is due in large part to the return of junior Jack Hui and freshman Philip Therp, who both sat out a great deal of the season with wrist injuries. Hui has steadily progressed in the top half of the lineup for the Gauchos. However, Therp’s recovery has not come easy as he has been relegated to a one-handed backhand and has also battled a knee injury that kept him out of Santa Barbara’s last match. UCSB also recently welcomed back sophomore Max Taylor from injury after he missed nearly three weeks, giving the Gauchos some much-needed depth.
“We got Max Taylor back and he is going to play at #6, so that’s a big plus because he’s been out of the lineup,” Davis said. “[Hui] is definitely healthier, but [Therp] is struggling still.”
Saturday’s match against Irvine will mark the second time the Gauchos have faced the Anteaters in the last two weeks. The two teams played a heated match on April 14 that ended in a close 4-3 win for Irvine. The Anteaters took the doubles point and the six singles matches were incredibly close, with four of the matches going to three sets.
Should the Gauchos win on Saturday they will face the winner of the other semifinal match between top-seeded Cal Poly (10-12 overall, 4-0 Big West) and Riverside (9-11, 1-3 Big West) or Pacific (3-17, 0-4 Big West), who will play each other for the fourth seed. Santa Barbara defeated both Riverside and Pacific handily earlier in the season, 7-0 and 6-1. The Gauchos also played a hard-fought match against Cal Poly and, despite missing key starters Hui and Therp, lost by a narrow margin 3-4.
“We’ve been able to train with the exact opponent in mind because we know who we’re going to play, so we’ve been able to practice stuff specific to Irvine,” Davis said.