After winning matches against Sacramento State and #73 San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday, the #60 UCSB men’s tennis team ended its regular season with a 13-10 record and the fourth seed in the Big West heading into the conference tournament, which begins on April 30 and spans three days in the grueling desert heat of Indian Wells.
“[Sunday] we showed a lot of toughness. It would’ve been easy for the guys to give it away,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “Grit and toughness: character traits that are going to be magnified in the hot conditions in the desert.”
At 4-1, Cal Poly finished first in the conference. Meanwhile, the Gauchos ended conference play with a 3-2 record, which placed them in a three-way tie for second place with Pacific and #51 UC Irvine. Since Pacific handed the Mustangs their only conference loss, the Tigers earned the second seed. The Anteaters handed UCSB a 4-3 loss on Feb. 14, which pushed them ahead of the Gauchos in the final conference rankings. The team that wins the conference tournament earns a bid to the NCAA National Championships on May 2 — the March Madness of college tennis.
“It’s a bad seed to have, but that’s what you get when you screw up in conference,” Davis said. “We put ourselves in a challenging position.”
So the Gauchos will play fifth seed UC Davis on April 30 at 3 p.m. Had the Gauchos earned one of the top two conference seeds, they would have bypassed the first day of the tournament, which is a significant advantage when temperatures on the courts in Indian Wells often reach well over 100 degrees. However, the Gauchos are looking for their fifth consecutive win in the Big West — and last season’s victory came in spite of placing third and playing three days of tennis.
“We don’t really care too much where we are. We’re still going to have to go out there and win matches,” junior Taylor Chavez-Goggin said.
Freshman Benjamin Recknagel added, “I like playing in the heat. It helps out my game, tires out my opponents.”
Recknagel is 5-0 in the second singles slot, with his biggest win arguably coming against #48 Boise State University.
“Benny’s on a role,” Davis said. “We got some guys who are red hot right now.”
Davis also mentioned freshman Lucas Sudow, who’s 16-6 season record is second best on the team next to Recknagel, and sophomore Mathieu Forget, who has played inconsistently this season but has settled in his role in the fifth and sixth singles slots.
“My confidence is back,” Forget said, who breezed past his USF opponent in two sets in the sixth slot on Sunday. “[And] we’re pretty deep. At the beginning of the season you’re in competition against the others. Now we know who’s playing in what spot [in the singles lineup], now it’s all about the team. My goal is to help my teammates win the conference. If I don’t play well [and I sit out] I’ll just cheer as loud as I can.”
With 2008 Big West Player of the Year, junior Philip Therp, back and healthy in the first singles slot of the starting lineup, the Gauchos are gaining momentum at the right time. The team has won six of their last seven matches. They have also beaten four ranked opponents this season.
“We’re really starting to peak as far as our game is concerned,” Goggin said. “We’re pulling out some big matches, [and] we’re excited for the next two weeks to prepare for Big West. It’s going to be a dogfight out there.”