Almost two weeks after being blanked 7-0 by Cal Poly, the fifth-seeded UCSB women’s tennis team will have a shot at redemption this afternoon against the their fourth-ranked rivals in the first round of the Big West Championships. The Gauchos (9-13 overall, 4-4 in the Big West) had their up and down season end on a bitter note against the Mustangs (12-11, 5-3 Big West) after playing inspired tennis during a Senior Day win just two days before.
“Before we even played [Cal Poly] we knew we were going to play them again 12 days later,” Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “For some reason we didn’t have the energy and the focus we needed to play them the first time, almost like we were saving it for the next time. We expect a little more intensity and focus, coming out with a little more concentration. It was the one match all year we didn’t fight very hard in.”
If this most recent loss to Cal Poly wasn’t motivation enough, the last time these two teams met in the postseason will be. The then fifth-seeded Mustangs knocked the fourth-ranked Gauchos out of the first round 4-0 in last year’s Big West Championships. Back then UCSB was hampered by an injury to freshman Carina Bjornstrom, forcing Gaucho players into spots they had not played in all season. That won’t be a problem for this year’s team, as UCSB returns to the postseason injury-free and eager to pull off the upset.
“It’s going to take everyone playing their best, fighting hard, and seeing what happens,” Kirkwood said. “We’re going to have to execute, serve well, and play the best tennis we’ve played all year.”
One key to Santa Barbara victories all year long has been the doubles game, as UCSB is 8-4 in games they win the doubles point, and 0-8 when they don’t. Seniors Marta Simic and Charlotte Scatliffe will once again team up in the one spot, while freshman Jill Damion and sophomore Asagi Onaga will handle the two. Sophomore Tova Hausman and senior Brittany Kausen have gone 12-8 in third-ranked doubles this year and will round out UCSB’s starting doubles teams.
“When we played [Cal Poly] last time, we were really close to getting the doubles point,” Kirkwood said. “We split second and third doubles, we were up 7-5 in first doubles, but we ended up not pulling that match out.”
As for singles, Simic will once again take the one-spot, while Damion will play the two. The middle of the lineup is subject to change, as Scatliffe has started in three different spots the past five games. If Scatliffe plays the five as she did in the regular season finale, then Onaga will stay in the three spot and Hausman at the four. Rounding out the starting six will be Kausen at the six, the spot she’s played for two straight seasons. UCSB will look for continued production from the bottom half of the lineup, as the fourth, fifth and sixth spots have gone a combined 30-32 this season compared to the top half’s record of 23-40.
Santa Barbara hopes to straighten out a rocky season with solid play in the postseason, and prove that they can beat a good team.
“It was a season of ‘almosts,’ ” Kirkwood said. “We almost had a great victory in Arizona, we almost had a great victory against Long Beach State, but we just didn’t get it done. The disappointing thing is not beating any ranked teams all year long, especially for the team that we had. Hopefully we can have some magic up there this weekend.”