After playing their first nine matches away from home, the Gaucho men’s tennis team returned to the Rec Cen Courts this weekend, beating Big West opponents Pacific 4-3 on Sunday and UC Davis 6-1 on Monday.
With the win against Pacific, the Gauchos (3-1 Big West, 5-6 overall) are now 2-3 in matches decided by one point. They had lost two straight matches prior to this weekend, including losses against conference foe UC Irvine and the University of San Diego.
“We had some painful moments against Irvine and San Diego. They were games we could have easily won,” Gaucho Head Coach Marty Davis said. “Replacing those nightmares with [positive memories] is very important. It’s going to benefit us next time we get into a close match.”
In college tennis, the team that wins at least two of three doubles matches earns a doubles point that gets tallied in the total for the match. A win in each of the six singles matches counts as a full point for a player’s respective team.
Sunday’s match came down to sophomore Mathieu Forget in the fifth singles slot. With the score of the overall match tied 3-3 and Forget down 3-4 in the third set, he won three consecutive games to take the set and the match for the Gauchos.
“I normally choke all the time. I did not realize [the match] was coming down to me,” Forget said. “But [when] I had some lucky shots that hit the line, I knew that I could not lose. I felt pretty good about my shot. I was really relaxed at the time.”
Forget won in the sixth singles slot against Josh Albert 6-1, 6-1 in Monday’s match. The Aggies, who upset Pacific in their first conference match of the season, only managed to win one of three doubles sets and in the first singles slot against Gaucho junior Philip Therp, who has been struggling since he first returned from an injury against Brigham Young on Feb. 6. Therp won Big West Player of the Year honors in 2008.
“Philip’s loss [on Monday] was a bummer,” Davis said. “He’s still getting better. He’s still got a couple of nagging injuries, but nothing serious.”
The team also looks forward to the return of senior team captain Josh Finkelstein, whose finger injury has kept him out of the starting lineup since Jan. 23 when the team lost 4-3 to #1 USC.
Still, the top half of the Gaucho’s singles lineup showed some improvement this weekend after junior Alex Konigsfeldt won in the second slot against the Aggies’ Chris Aria 6-1, 6-2 and senior Scott Hohenstein defeated the Aggies’ Tyler Lee 6-2, 6-2. The bottom half of the lineup, which consists of Forget, freshman Benjamin Recknagel and Lucas Sudow, combined for six wins this weekend. Against Davis, the three lost a combined six games in the six sets they played.
“The win [against Davis] was good for my confidence,” Forget said. “The guy wasn’t that good, but a win is a win, always.”
UCSB now looks toward their match at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo on Sunday, which will be the last time they play until spring quarter when the team takes on Washington. The match is also the Gauchos’ last against a Big West opponent during the regular season.
“Marty warned us that their [fans] are really into it,” Forget said. “We’ll just have to play. I’m pretty optimistic about it.”
The Mustangs lost 4-3 to Pacific on Monday afternoon. While the conference picture is currently unclear because matches are still being decided, Davis believes the Gauchos have to win against the Mustangs to earn one of the top two seeds, which would give them a first round bye in the Big West Tournament, which begins on April 30 at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Winning the Big West for the fifth consecutive season would give the Gauchos a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“I sure hope we’re going back to the NCAA tournament. That’s the goal,” Davis said. “This next match is very important for us in context of the seedings. We’ve definitely got some improving to do, but I think we’re on track.”