They went into the NCAAs on the heels of the high part of the emotional rollercoaster known as the Big West Tournament, but the season ended on a low note as the men’s tennis team was unable to overcome USC’s onslaught in the first round of the NCAA Championships. UCSB went down 4-0 against the Trojans.
“I thought we played a little scared,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “The score looks a lot worse than it was, but they were very good.”
USC was very good indeed. The #8 team in the nation boasted a slew of nationally ranked players, including Robert Farah, who is ranked eighth in the nation. Interestingly, sophomore Alex Konigsfeldt’s #1 singles match against Farah was one of the closest of the day, being suspended at 3-6, 4-3 because USC had already taken the amount of points necessary to win the match. Another close one came at #2 singles, where Gaucho Josh Finkelstein battled Jaak Poldma to another 3-6, 4-3 score before the match was called. Finkelstein, for one, was proud of his performance.
“I played really well, he was definitely the best player I’ve played all season,” Finkelstein said. “I got up in the second set, and if the match finished, I think I would’ve had a chance to at least go to the third set.”
Friday was a day of almosts, as the #2 and #3 Gaucho doubles teams battled back from a painfully slow start to pull even before finally being put away. A number of the singles matches were close as well, but USC was simply too much.
“They were just all-around better at everything,” Finkelstein said. “I don’t know if we could’ve won, but I know we could’ve done a lot better. They’re obviously a really good team, but in the beginning we played really nervous.”
Despite the disappointing tournament performance, Coach Davis had nothing but the highest praise for a team that he described as one of the best he has ever coached.
“In terms of team chemistry and fight and grit, this was probably the best team I’ve ever been associated with,” Davis said. “With the ‘never-say-die’ attitude, and the talent level we had, I think we did quite well. Overall, it was a positive year, but it doesn’t come close to meeting our goals going forward.”
Those goals, beginning as soon as next season, immediately become far loftier than ever before. With a strong recruiting class, the loss of just one player to graduation, and the return of the team ace, junior Phil Therp, from a season-ending surgery, the whole team has high expectations for next season.
“I’m wildly optimistic about next year,” Davis said. “In the grand scheme of where we want the program to be, a conference title is expected, and we didn’t make a statement in the NCAA tournament. Eventually I hope we get over our fears of playing there.”
As of now, the team is looking to an early season rematch against USC to gauge how those lofty goals pan out. Expectations aside, one thing is for sure: Next season is going to be a wild one for UCSB tennis.