Although they lost their season opener 4-3 to the University of Hawaii on Jan. 21, the UCSB men’s tennis team has high expectations for the rest of the 2008 season, expectations that include more than just a third consecutive Big West Tournament title.

“We want to be a top-40 team,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “I’m trying to get the guys to think beyond the Big West Tournament and think Sweet 16.”

The Gauchos (0-1) lost only two players in the offseason while returning four out of their six singles starters. Sophomore Philip Therp, who was the 2007 Big West Freshman Player of the Year, is now healthy after missing ten games in 2007 with a left wrist injury. However, he lost his first match of the season 6-1, 6-3 to Andreas Weber of Hawaii, who is the #25 player in the country.

Freshmen Alexander Konigsfeldt and Maher Zeidan occupy the fourth and sixth spots in the starting lineup, respectively. Konigsfeldt, who Davis considers critical to the Gauchos’ success this season, took one of only two singles sets that the Gauchos won against Hawaii.

The Gauchos’ 2007 Most Improved Player, Josh Finkelstein, took the other singles set against Hawaii 6-4, 7-5 and will play in the number five spot after his win. Senior Jack Hui, who was also troubled by wrist injuries last season, is back and playing in the third singles spot.

UCSB believes that Big West competition from Cal Poly (3-1 overall), UC Irvine (0-1) and Pacific (0-1) will be difficult this season and winning the Big West tournament a third consecutive time is not a guarantee.

“We need to have a good regular season this year, so if we lose in the Big West tournament, we’ll still have a shot at going to the NCAA’s,” Davis said. “There’ll be less pressure for us [if we win in the regular season].”

The Gauchos have not made the Sweet 16 since 1997, a year before Davis took the reigns as head coach. Last season, the Gauchos played the majority of the season with only two players in the original starting lineup, resulting in a 6-19 regular season. By winning the Big West Tournament the previous year, they received an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in spite of their poor regular season record, but they were knocked out in the first round.

UCSB plays #38 Washington (2-2) on Friday in Seattle at 5 p.m. and unranked Ball State (2-6) on Saturday. With an upset of the Huskies, Davis believes the Gauchos may move into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

Washington is one of the eight ranked teams the Gauchos play this season. The list also includes #8 UCLA (3-0), #21 Pepperdine (0-3) and #27 Boise State (5-1).