It may have been a long season with a great deal of adversity for the UCSB men’s tennis team, but the squad won when it mattered most, capturing its second consecutive conference title at the Big West Championships in Indian Wells, Calif. over the weekend.
The third-seeded Gauchos (6-18 overall, 4-2 in the Big West) defeated Irvine 4-3 in their semifinal match on Saturday, then took out the top seed Cal Poly 4-2 on Sunday to claim their fourth Big West title in the last six years. The title is more remarkable considering Santa Barbara was somewhat of an underdog having been hampered by injuries all season and going into the tournament with a mere four wins.
“I’d like to think the harder you work the luckier you get,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “We definitely worked hard and I think we were a little lucky, too, in spots.”
Santa Barbara played its semifinal match against second-seeded UC Irvine on Saturday morning. UCSB got off to a good start in doubles; junior Anders Dalskov and sophomore Grant Robertson earned a win with 8-5, and freshman Josh Finkelstein and sophomore Nigel Barton won 9-7. The wins in doubles put the Gauchos ahead 1-0.
“I’d say the doubles point was key in both matches,” Davis said. “It was important to get off to a good start emotionally.”
Irvine usurped the lead from the Gauchos with wins over sophomore Bijan Hejazi on court one 6-2, 6-0 and Finkelstein on court five with scores of 6-3,6-3. Sophomore Max Taylor then earned a 6-3, 6-4 win at number six for Santa Barbara. Taylor just recently returned to the lineup after sustaining an injury. Dalskov put UCSB on the verge of clinching the match with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Irvine junior Victor Lamm.
The Anteaters tied the match 3-3 with a hard fought win over freshman Philip Therp, 7-5, 6-4. The match came down to court four, where junior Jack Hui was battling Anteater sophomore Trevor Dobson. Hui rallied back after losing the first set to take the match 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4, sending the Gauchos to the Big West Championship match against rival Cal Poly.
“It was a lot of fun; everybody played great and it was a total team effort,” Therp said.
On Sunday, Santa Barbara put its season on the line and once again came out victorious in doubles play, as Dalskov and Robertson clinched the point for the Gauchos with an excruciatingly close match that went to a tiebreaker, 9-8 (3). As in Saturday’s match against Irvine, Santa Barbara fell behind 2-1 after the Mustangs earned victories on courts one and five. Hui followed up Saturday’s heroics with a 6-2, 6-3 win, while Taylor earned another key win for the Gauchos by defeating Cal Poly sophomore Nick Berger 7-6 (2), 6-1. Carrying a 3-2 lead, Dalskov clinched the championship for the Gauchos with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win on court two.
“These were really the first matches where we came through in the clutch,” Davis said. “It’s always sweeter to win when it’s close.”
With the conference title, UCSB earned itself a bid to the NCAA Championships that will take place in two weeks.