The #6 seed UCSB women’s tennis team ended their season on Saturday with a 4-3 loss to #2 seed UC Irvine on Saturday afternoon in the Big West Championships.
The loss came after UCSB beat #3 seed Cal Poly 4-3 in the first round of the tournament on Friday, in which freshman Sofia Novak took the final point with 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-3 victory against the Mustangs’ Whitney Peterson in the third singles slot. The Mustangs beat UCSB 5-2 on Feb. 20.
“It was a very intense weekend,” Gaucho Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “[We lost] by the skin of our teeth. Neither match could have been any closer.”
In Saturday’s four-hour match, junior team captain Bryanna Ojeda had the same chance that Novak had to clinch the victory for the Gauchos, but rolled her left ankle in the first set. Having sprained her right ankle earlier in the season, Ojeda still managed to play three sets in her 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2 loss to Irvine’s Heidi Kaloi in the sixth singles spot. In the third set, Ojeda suffered a bout of hyperventilation, and was issued a time warning violation between serves because she was unable to catch her breath.
“She left it all on the court, sweat, gut and tears,” Kirkwood said. “It was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever seen.”
Before Ojeda’s match, sophomore Jill Damion defeated Irvine’s Courtney Byron in a third-set tiebreaker to tie the match at 3-3. Novak was the only other Gaucho to win a singles match against Irvine. Three of the six singles matches were decided in three sets – including freshman Natalia Lozano’s 7-5, 1-6, 6-1 loss to Irvine’s Clare Fermin. Junior Asagi Onaga lost 7-5, 6-1 in the fifth spot. Junior Michelle Murphy lost 6-2, 6-0 to Irvine’s Stephanie Hammel in the first spot.
“Both of us [Irvine and UCSB] deserved to win,” Ojeda said. “It was a good match.”
With the loss, the Gauchos ended their season with a conference-leading 16-6 overall record, including a five-match win streak entering Saturday’s match. The team went 5-5 in the Big West but lost only one match outside of conference play. In Sunday’s championship match, top-seeded Long Beach State beat Irvine 4-1. Irvine ended the season ranked #56 in the nation – four spots higher than #60 Long Beach State. According to Kirkwood, Irvine might still earn an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament in May.
“And look at what we did with [Irvine],” Kirkwood said. “At the beginning of the season the freshmen weren’t sure they belonged, but now we know we’re good. We’re already thinking about winning the title next year. I’m proud of the team and the way we played.”