The UCSB men’s tennis team heads to Northern California this weekend as they play three matches in three days, including their first conference match against UC Davis. Head Coach Marty Davis preached the importance of the Big West matchup.

“We’re opening our conference season, and Davis is a must win for us in the conference,” Davis said. “So it’ll be a challenge for us. We want to send a message saying we’re still the defending champs.”

Junior Scott Hohenstein agreed.

“Everyone’s going to have to get really fired up and every match counts,” Hohenstein said. “We want to make an impression so when other teams see our scores, they know how good we are.”

After the match against unranked UC Davis, the Gauchos will have two upset opportunities against UC Berkeley and Santa Clara on Sunday and Monday, respectively. According to Coach Davis, three matches in three days will prove to be a challenge.

“I would expect our guys to be able to play three matches in three days, since it’s what we’ll have to do at the conference tournament,” Davis said. “And this week we just have to get fired up back to back to back days.”

If he sees signs of fatigue, though, Davis will not hesitate to make some changes.

“We are going to experiment with some doubles teams, so the lineup is definitely not set in stone,” Davis said. “If someone’s underperforming, we certainly have people ready to fill in.”

The importance of the conference match is even greater this year than in previous years, because UCSB’s youth puts them at an immediate disadvantage against the improved Big West teams, says junior Josh Finkelstein.

“I think it’s going to be tough, because this year we’re not necessarily the most talented team,” Finkelstein said. “We’re going to have to work hard with what we have instead.”

Coach Davis echoed his captain’s sentiments.

“It’s definitely going to be more difficult than last year,” Davis said. “UC Irvine is improved, Cal Poly is improved, Pacific, who took second in the Big West last year, are at least as good. The competition is tougher, but we’re the champs, and we want people to know that.”

After this weekend, the Gauchos have a week and a half off before their home opener against UC Irvine on Feb. 27.