As a fifth-year senior on UCSB’s men’s tennis team, Scott Hohenstein really wants to win a fifth consecutive Big West Conference Championship. So does fellow fifth-year senior and team captain Josh Finkelstein.
“We don’t know anyone else who’s won five big ones,” Hohenstein said. “I don’t see how we’re not gonna win it this year, and I’ve never said that before.”
Before they can play for Big West glory, the Gauchos will go to Hawaii for the second time in three years to begin a grueling nine-game road schedule, which begins on Sunday in Honolulu against St. Mary’s and continues on Monday against #41 Hawaii.
After going 3-2 in conference play during the regular season last year, the Gauchos headed into the Big West tournament in Indian Wells with the fourth seed. They swept fifth seed UC Davis 4-0 in the first round and beat top-seeded Pacific 4-3 in the second round after Hohenstein broke the tie with a three-set victory in the third singles slot. Against no. 2 seed Irvine in the title match, the Gauchos won 4-2, clinching a bid to the NCAA tournament. They lost to top-seeded USC in the first round.
This season, the Gauchos return five of their six starters. Their sixth starter, Max Taylor, started in the fourth slot but graduated in June, finishing his career in the Big West tournament 9-0. The Gauchos also look forward to the return of junior Philip Therp, who spent most of last season sidelined by an injury but is expected to return in the next couple of weeks.
“He’s improving physically,” said junior Taylor Chavez Goggin. “We’re looking forward to having him back.”
Goggin, a Santa Barbara local who started in the fifth slot in the Big West Tournament last season, looks to jump up a slot or two in season play this season. Finkelstein, who Hohenstein and Goggin agree is essential to maintaining the team’s camaraderie, is also likely to hold on to a starting spot after finishing last season in the second slot. While the lineup remains unknown from the third slot to the sixth, Goggin and Hohenstein believe that the first slot will be taken by sophomore Mathieu Forget and the second will be taken by 2009 Big West Player of the Year Alex Konigsfeldt.
“Forget is always doing something. Air guitar celebration, cartwheel; he’s a dancer so he can do all these flips,” Hohenstein said. “He has a lot of energy. The foreigners are always really focused.”
In addition to the starters from last season, the Gauchos have added three freshmen in a class that Head Coach Marty Davis, the 2009 Big West Coach of the Year, called the “best recruiting class we’ve had in a decade.”
Freshmen Lucas Sudow and Benjamin Recknagel hail from Sweden and Germany, respectively, while 6-4 freshman Max Glenn is from California.
“Max is like what, 6’10” or something?” Hohenstein said. “He’s really big, he’s super athletic and he’s improving a lot. Benjamin [is] pretty scary out there on the court. He hits the ball super hard, he’ll give a lot of people trouble. Lucas is an all around player].”
The freshmen got their first taste of collegiate tennis in the UCSB Fall Classic in November against Westmont and Loyola Marymount. The team swept Westmont and the freshmen each beat their LMU opposition in two sets.
“We have a lot of talent on our team,” Hohenstein said. “Last season we kind of put it all together at the end of the season, which translated to success in the post season. This season we have some new freshmen looking to make an impact. With hard work and dedication we should be on our way to another Big West Championship.”
After Hawaii, the Gauchos will play top-ranked USC, followed by #61 Brigham Young, before beginning Big West play at UC Riverside on Feb. 13. They play their first home game against UC Davis on Feb. 27.