The #65 UCSB men’s tennis team began its Midwest road trip earlier than planned on Thursday with a 6-1 victory in an unscheduled match against young Utah State (6-12 overall). The Gauchos (12-7) also regained one of their senior leaders on time for the most important stretch of the season.

Senior Anders Dalskov only played one match before knee surgery forced him to the sidelines. On Thursday, he played in the third doubles slot with senior Jack Hui, and the two of them cruised to an 8-3 victory. Hui had been named Big West Player of the Week on April 9.

“Anders [Dalskov] is a huge positive force,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “He didn’t have any problems with his knee, and he brings strength to our doubles teams. But it’s questionable whether he’ll progress enough to get back into singles.”

Davis scheduled the match against Utah State in order to allow the team to adjust to the higher altitudes of the Midwest.

“Utah State is not as strong of a team as the three we’re about to play, so it was a really good chance to acclimate,” he said.

The Gauchos’ original road trip was supposed to begin today against #64 Utah, followed by a match at BYU on Saturday and another match against #35 Boise State on Sunday.

“These matches are really important for us if we want a higher ranking,” said sophomore Team Captain Josh Finkelstein. “A higher ranking will give us a better seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Gauchos lost to #14 Pepperdine 6-1 last Thursday, lowering their Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking five spots, and virtually ensuring that they would not receive one of the 32 available at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. However, the team already clinched first place in the Big West Conference after beating Pacific and UC Davis during the first weekend of April, earning the top seed and securing a bye in the first round of next weekend’s Big West Tournament in Indian Wells. Winning the Big West Tournament would give the Gauchos their third consecutive tournament title and their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Six of the Gauchos’ seven losses this season came after losing the doubles point. The only match they lost after winning the doubles point was against the University of Hawaii in their season opener in February.

“I told the guys before the season – I don’t see us losing a match after winning the doubles point – but it happened in the first match of the year,” Davis said. “But doubles is a huge influence. Utah counts on winning doubles, they win doubles all the time. But even if we lose the doubles point, I still think we have a shot.”

UCSB’s match against Utah in Salt Lake City begins today at 1:30 p.m.