The UCSB women’s tennis team kicks off their Big West schedule this weekend in road matches at UC Davis on Saturday and Pacific on Sunday. Both matches are set to start at 11:00 a.m., pending the stormy weather set to hit California this weekend.
The Gauchos have only played one match of the season so far, a 7-0 sweep of Cal State Bakersfield at the Robertson Gymnasium courts on Jan. 24. However, Bakersfield was a team in the process of transition to Division I, and the Gaucho’s first real challenge will come this weekend.
“We have an extremely competitive conference,” Gaucho Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “Four to six teams have a shot in the [Big West] Tournament.”
Kirkwood hopes the Gauchos can finish in the top three seeds in the Big West, which would put the team in the best position for a strong outing in the tournament. Last season, UCSB lost to Long Beach in the Big West Tournament Championship, ending their NCAA Tournament hopes.
“But even in the third seed, your probably gonna play a team that’s capable of winning,” he said. “The conference is very tight – expect 4-3 matches and tight battles in every single match. We’d like to get to the finals of the tournament and see what we can do, and it’d be nice to see the NCAA’s because we haven’t been in a long time.”
UC Davis is 4-3 in non-conference matches this season, most recently sweeping UC Santa Cruz at home. Pacific is 1-3 in non-conference matches. However, the three losses all came in close, 4-3 matches – one of them to #48 UNLV on Jan. 25. Tiger sophomore Jenifer Widjada improved to 4-0 in the first singles spot in Pacific’s last loss to Nevada on Jan. 31. As a conference, the Big West has two teams ranked in the ITA top 75, with #42 Long Beach State and #65 UC Irvine.
According to Kirkwood, the Gauchos are young and untested. Their first singles player, junior Michelle Murphy, transferred from Michigan State. Sophomore Jill Damion occupies the second singles spot – the only player in the starting lineup who played in the same position last season. Junior Asagi Onaga fills the third spot, followed by freshman Sofia Novak and junior Brianna Ojeda. All six singles players won in two sets against Bakersfield.
“We have so many new players, we don’t really know what it’s about,” Kirkwood said. “Our season depends on the growth of the freshmen. But talent wise, we’re better then we were last season. One through six, we’re just incredibly even – we might have the deepest singles in the league.”
After this weekend, UCSB will play six straight matches at home, with three consecutive matches on the weekend of Feb. 15 against Loyola Marymount, Cal Poly and Hawaii, respectively. Kirkwood hopes the team gains some momentum this weekend before the homestand before facing Cal Poly.