The UCSB men’s tennis team takes on Big West rival UC Irvine this Friday in what Head Coach Marty Davis is calling the biggest match of the season. UCSB will need to pull out all the stops to defeat the Anteaters, who many are calling the Big West favorites despite that title being held by UCSB for three straight years.

“It’s going to be a really tough match,” Davis said. “We’re the three-time champs, but this year people are saying Irvine is the team to beat. We know they’re talented and hungry to knock us off the pedestal.”

The #61 ranked Gauchos are coming off of a 5-2 victory against #67 Utah. Though they lost a tight first doubles point, as well as the first singles point of the match, UCSB responded by winning five of the next six singles matches on their way to their first back-to-back wins of the season. According to junior Scott Hohenstein, the home team was not too rattled by losing the first two points.

“Everyone was confident about how the singles was going to go,” Hohenstein said. “I don’t think anyone was too bothered by it. We’re used to starting out down a little bit.”

On Friday, though, it will take solid performances throughout the match to pull out the victory against their Big West rivals.

“It’s going to come down to the wire,” Hohenstein said. “They’re really tough and really deep. We don’t really like them, so everyone from the top to the bottom is going to have to play at the top of their game.”

Lone senior Max Taylor, who took his first victory of the season against Utah, agreed with his teammate.

“We hate them,” Taylor said. “It seems like everybody in the Big West thinks Irvine is the best, if we can win, it shows we can win the conference again.”

The importance of the match for the Gauchos cannot be overstated. They are 1-0 in Big West play and need to prove to the rest of the conference that they are still the team to beat.

“It’d mean a lot to win,” Hohenstein said. “Some people think [UCI is] favored to win the Big West, so it would mean a lot to get that win because I’m sure they’re thinking they’re going to come up here and beat us.”

As if the Irvine match was not enough of a challenge, the Gauchos will stay at home for another match on Sunday against conference opponent UC Riverside. For Davis, that match could prove harder than it would seem to be on paper.

“Riverside is dangerous,” Davis said. “They’re a much-improved conference opponent. That makes me nervous because it’d be easy to let our guard down after Irvine. [Riverside] beat us last year in doubles, so it’s definitely going to be a challenging match as well.”

At the beginning of February, UCSB took down Oregon in an incredibly close match, only to come back down to reality by way of a 7-0 domination at the hands of New Mexico. This weekend, the Gauchos will have to be careful to avoid falling into the same trap.

“Riverside is a legit team, so we’ll have to be fired up for it,” Taylor said. “But it’ll be hard and will take some extra work coming back. Last time when we played Oregon, it was kind of hard to get fired up again to play. But we learned from that, and hopefully we can use that in this situation.”

Scott Hohenstein agreed.

“When we beat Oregon, we were mentally drained for New Mexico. At least we know that, so it won’t happen again. But it’ll definitely still be draining mentally and physically. Right now, we just want to get past UCI first.”

The Gauchos will try to do just that this Friday at 1:30 p.m., where there will be coupons for free burgers from the Habit in addition to the usual free pizza. UC Riverside comes into town on Sunday at 12 p.m.