So it begins.
In their quest for an NCAA Tournament spot, the UCSB women’s tennis team will play rival Cal Poly in the first round of the Big West Championships on Friday at 3 p.m. in Indian Wells. The teams have met in the quarterfinals the past two seasons.
“We’re going up there to win it,” Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be wasting the school’s money.”
In their last meeting on Feb. 20, the Mustangs beat the Gauchos 5-2 at the Robertson Gymnasium Courts, sweeping the doubles point and winning four out of six singles matches. However, three of the singles matches went to three sets, and both teams have switched their doubles and singles lineups throughout the season.
“We have a lot more confidence [since February]. I feel like we’ve all grown together as a team,” team captain Bryanna Ojeda said. “I think Cal Poly was at their peak back in January – they’ve kind of been on a downward slope. But no matter what it’s gonna be a tough match and it can go either way.”
The Mustangs, seeded third, finished the season 6-2 in the Big West and 12-8 overall. At 4-4 in the conference, UCSB tied for fourth with Cal State Northridge and Pacific, but was seeded sixth after losing the coin toss to determine the tournament seeding. The Gauchos finished the season with a conference-best overall record of 15-5, winning four consecutive and 12 of their last 14 matches to end the regular season. Meanwhile, Cal Poly lost four of their last seven, including a 4-3 loss to Hawaii, who the Gauchos beat 5-1 on Feb. 17.
“We think Cal Poly is actually more scared than us,” Ojeda said.
Last year, the Gauchos lost 7-0 to Cal Poly to end the regular season, but avenged their loss as the fifth seed with a 4-2 victory over the Mustangs in the first round of the tournament. They then lost 4-0 to top-seeded Long Beach State, who went on to win their fifth consecutive Big West Championships title. The team has won 19 straight Big West matches, dating back to the 2006-2007 season.
“We couldn’t have had our backs more to the wall last season, and we still beat [Cal Poly],” Kirkwood said. “We know from experience that we’ve just got to go out and play, and it’ll be tough for them to get four points on us.”
The Mustangs are led by #71 junior Brittany Blalock, who went 22-10 in singles play in a season highlighted by a victory over #8 Maria Sanchez of USC earlier this year. Blalock will face off against Gaucho junior Michelle Murphy, who ended the season 14-13 and earned Gaucho Athlete of the Week honors for her efforts in UCSB wins against Washington State and Eastern Washington last weekend.
The Mustang’s Suzie Matzenauer will face off against Gaucho sophomore Jill Damion in the second singles slot. Matzenauer, a transfer from #1 Northwestern, teams up with sophomore Amy Markhoff to form the only Cal Poly doubles team that faced UCSB in February. The pair will start in the first doubles slot against Murphy and freshman Sofia Novak, who will also start in the third singles slot. Novak leads the Gauchos with a 13-3 singles record. Fellow Gaucho freshman Natalia Lozano will start at the fourth singles slot after earning an 11-5 record during the season. She and Damion pair up to play doubles in the second slot.
“We’ll see how [the freshmen] react,” Kirkwood said. “They’re ready for it, they know the significance of it. They know this is what the whole season has been about. But how they [step] out on the court and [play] remains to be seen.”
For the Gauchos, junior Asagi Onaga, who went 11-5 this season, will start in the fifth spot. Ojeda, who holds the team’s second best singles record at 11-3, rounds out the singles lineup in the sixth spot. The two pair up in the third doubles slot.
If the Gauchos win in the quarterfinals, they play either #56 UC Irvine or UC Davis on Saturday at 9 a.m. The finals will take place on Sunday.
“To me, it’s just about looking at one match at a time,” Ojeda said. “We should all go out there with confidence against Cal Poly and go from there.”