The UCSB women’s tennis team might have forgone Isla Vista’s biggest beach party of the year to play in Riverside, but at least the trip was worth it.
On Saturday, the Gauchos beat UC Riverside (7-8 overall, 0-5 Big West) 6-1 in their final conference match of the regular season at Riverside’s Student Recreation Center Tennis Complex, pushing their conference record to 4-4 and a tie for fourth place in the conference with Pacific. The Gauchos have taken four of their last five matches.
“From playing the matches and getting experience, we’ve gotten a lot better,” junior team captain Bryanna Ojeda said. “It’s hard to compare from the beginning of the season because we are such a new team.”
With a win against Riverside on April 7, Cal State Northridge, 3-4 in the Big West, could push a three-way tie with the Gauchos and the Tigers. Since CSUN beat Pacific, UCSB beat CSUN and Pacific beat UCSB, the tie would be decided by each team’s nonconference record, ensuring that the Gauchos, who are 13-5 overall, would secure fourth place. However, if the Matadors lose to Riverside, Santa Barbara will be seeded fifth. Either way, UCSB will play Pacific in the first round of the Big West Championships, slated to begin on April 17.
“For us, it’s all about playing without the pressure of the seeding, competing and playing without fear and getting as tough as possible for the tournament,” Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said.
In the match, the Gauchos swept the doubles point, with 8-5, 8-2, 8-5 wins in the first, second and third doubles slots, respectively. In singles, Gaucho junior Michelle Murphy lost Santa Barbara’s only point in the first spot 6-3, 6-3, and sophomore Jill Damion beat Riverside’s Donna McCullough 6-1, 6-0.
“Jill [has] yet to play her best tennis,” Kirkwood said. “We’re counting on big things from her.”
Freshmen Sofia Novak and Natalia Lozano won their matches in the third and fourth spots, Novak in a 6-7, 6-3 (10-4) tiebreaker and Lozano in a quick 6-2, 6-2 outing. The freshmen maintain two of the best singles records on the team: Novak has posted a 13-3 singles record while Lozano is 11-5. Junior Asagi Onaga, who won 6-0, 6-2 in the fifth spot, has improved to 11-5. With a 6-0, 6-2 win in the sixth spot, junior team captain Bryanna Ojeda is now 11-3.
“Asagi has been on and off, [but] at the five she’s starting to get comfortable,” Kirkwood said. “She’s really the key. When we’re taking the point at five we’re tougher to beat.”
The Gauchos are hosting St. Mary’s at the Robertson Gymnasium Courts in their final home match of the season on April 7 at 1:30 p.m. before traveling to Washington to play Washington State on April 9 and Eastern Washington on April 10.