After a strong preseason, the UCSB women’s tennis team looks to continue its winning ways during the 2008 regular season.

The Gauchos return five of their six starters from the 2007 squad, which finished 10-11 overall and 4-3 in Big West Conference play before being eliminated by Cal Poly in the Big West Championships. Senior Marta Simic will occupy the top spot in the Gaucho singles lineup after recording an 11-11 singles record in 2007, while talented freshman Jill Damion will take the second spot. Damion is the youngest of all six starters, but the true freshman already has Coach Pete Kirkwood singing her praises.

“Jill is an unbelievable talent and she had the best fall of anyone on the team,” Kirkwood said. “She is really capable of beating anyone in the country on any given day. She has outstanding shot selection in big points and she can hit a winner from anywhere on the court.”

Also returning are senior Charlotte Scatliffe, sophomores Tova Hausman and Asagi Onaga. Scatliffe struggled with a nagging wrist injury last season en route to a 7-11 record. Scatliffe will also play doubles again this season, teaming with Simic to form an imposing duo.

“Charlotte [Scatliffe] is by far our best doubles player and will play [Number one doubles] with Marta [Simic],” Kirkwood said. “She was hurt much of last year and that really hurt us, especially in doubles. She is also our team captain, sparkplug and leader.”

Hausman and Onaga both finished with winning singles records in 2007, and both are expected to contribute in big ways for the Gauchos.

“[Hausman] was the only player on the team to beat a ranked opponent last year,” Kirkwood said. “Asagi is an ace in the hole at number five. She is one of the hardest workers on the team. Last year was big for her in getting confidence and growing up.”

Senior Brittany Kausen completes the UCSB lineup at the sixth spot after splitting her singles games last season with an overall record of 11-11. Kausen will most likely start on the third doubles team along with Hausman, a duo that went 5-5 overall in the same spot last year. Kausen has won the team’s Most Improved Player award three years in a row, and Coach Kirkwood hopes all that hard work will finally pay off with a breakout season.

“Brittany works unbelievably hard. She is much more aggressive and her serve has improved. If she can have a big year at [the sixth spot], that would be a big plus for us,” Kirkwood said.

UCSB will begin its quest for a league championship this Saturday at 1 p.m. as they face off against #56 Sacramento State at the Rio Del Oro Racket Club in Sacramento. Sacramento State is one of 11 ranked opponents the Gauchos will face in the coming year, six of which are in the Top 50 and four of which reside in the Big West.

“The Gauchos are ready, willing and able to beat them all,” Kirkwood said. “With basically the same nucleus that was in and out of the rankings last year returning, we are a year wiser, tougher and most importantly healthier.”