Before the 2008 Big West Championships began, Head Coach Pete Kirkwood commented that his squad would need a little magic to make a deep run in the tournament. The fifth-seeded UCSB women’s tennis team proved that it did indeed have one more trick up its sleeve, upsetting fourth-seeded Cal Poly 4-2 in the first round before falling to top-seeded Long Beach State 4-0 in the semifinals. The Gauchos (10-14 overall, 5-5 in the Big West) did not get the elusive championship they were searching for, but they did manage to beat a Mustang squad (12-2, 5-5 in the Big West) that handed them a 7-0 loss in the regular-season finale.
“We played two of our best matches of the year on Friday and Saturday,” Kirkwood said. “We completely turned the tide on Cal Poly after losing 7-0 two weeks earlier. To come back and beat them 4-2 just shows how tough our team was, not getting down on a defeat, just coming back with confidence and put it to them.”
To beat its conference rivals, Santa Barbara did something it had not done all season: It won a match without securing the doubles point first. Seniors Marta Simic and Charlotte Scatliffe lost a close 9-7 bout with sophomores Brittany Blalock and Steffi Wong, while freshman Jill Damion and sophomore Asagi Onaga suffered an 8-3 defeat at the hands of Mustang juniors Shannon Brady and Maria Malec. UCSB recorded its only doubles victory when sophomore Tova Hausman and senior Brittany Kausen handled sophomore Diana Flip and freshman Amy Markoff 8-2 in the third spot.
The Gauchos would respond in the singles games however, as Simic easily put away Blalock 6-3, 6-4 in the one spot, while Damion needed three sets to finish off Wong 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Starting at the three spot for the first time in her career, Hausman made it count with a 6-4, 7-6 win over junior Whitney Peterson. Those three points along with Markoff retiring in the fifth spot against Scatliffe gave UCSB the four it needed for the overall victory and a trip to the second round.
“What made the win more impressive was losing the doubles point and still coming back to win the four singles,” Kirkwood said. “We waited all year to do it, but we did it at the right time. Our team just never gave up on themselves, and we got the reward in the rematch.”
In the tournament semifinals, UCSB played well against the regular season Big West Champions, but not well enough to stop Long Beach State from sweeping the doubles point and taking three quick singles matches for a misleading 4-0 victory. The Gauchos were actually winning in the second, third and fourth singles spots, but those matches were stopped once 49ers got their fourth point.
“Their doubles play was excellent. When we played them the first time, we took the doubles point off them, but the just played really, really good doubles,” Kirkwood said. “I don’t think our level even dropped off that much. They just played a lot better, but the fact of the matter is we were winning the three matches that were pulled off the court when they got their fourth point. If we had played the match out to the end, it would have been 4-3.”
UCSB looks to return a solid core of players for the 2008-09 season, as Hausman, Damion and Onaga are all set to have breakout seasons.
“Our future’s looking pretty good,” Kirkwood said. “Tova Hausman is probably playing the best tennis of her career. If she continues to play at that level, she’s going to have a big year next year. [Damion] played really good tennis this weekend, beating Wong this time around, and was winning against [Stephanie Bengson] before the match ended. Asagi was a little off against Cal Poly, but was winning her match against Long Beach. All three of them have another year of experience under their belts, and keep playing better and better. We’re already getting excited about next year.”