On Friday, the UCSB men’s tennis team opens the 2010 preseason with the 17th annual Bulldog Classic in Fresno.

The three-day tournament pits UCSB against Fresno State, the University of Nevada, UC Berkeley, Fresno City College, as well as division rivals Cal Poly.

“All returning players, including myself, are working really hard on and off the court and can’t wait to prove ourselves and reestablish UCSB as the best team in the conference,” sophomore Benjamin Recknagel said.

Six members of the Gaucho squad will compete in the tournament, including last season’s All-Big West honorees Evan Jurgensen, junior Mathieu Forget and senior Taylor Chavez-Goggin.

The 2009 season ended in heartbreak for the Gauchos when they were defeated by Cal Poly in the semifinal round of the conference tournament, meaning that they would not be competing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons. The upcoming Classic represents the beginning of UCSB’s quest to avenge that loss and get back to the national stage.

Head Coach Marty Davis, who was recently named UCSB’s Director of Tennis and was also inducted into the Northern California Tennis Hall of Fame in July, has been working his team hard in preparation for the Classic.

“We’ve been doing two-a-day workouts,” Davis said. “Our training has been vigorous and physical. I think the guys are really quite sore. Even the bus ride to Fresno is going to be a nice rest for them. I think we’re as prepared as we can be given that we’ve only been together for a few weeks.”

For the Gauchos, the Classic represents an opportunity not only to establish them in the conference early on, but also to learn about themselves and their opponents.

“I think I’ll learn more about our team than the competition,” Davis said. “We’ll have almost all new doubles teams this year so we’ll learn about that. Also, we’ll see how the freshmen deal with the pressure.”

The 2010 Gauchos return four seniors and all seven of their players who were named to last season’s All Big West team. According to Davis, however, last season’s conference champion UC Irvine is the favorite to win the title again this year, and Cal Poly is also going to contend.

“Our conference is getting better and that’s good for us,” Davis said.

Though they face a hard road ahead of them if they want to make it back to the NCAA tournament, the Gauchos still have high expectations for themselves. After losing their first Big West tournament in four seasons, the Gauchos want to regain control of the conference.

“As long as we don’t start thinking about other schools, results or rankings and just keep focusing on ourselves, I’m sure we have a great chance to reach our goals and expectations,” Recknagel said.

The Bulldog Classic will begin this Friday and end on Sunday, with the opening matches set to start at 9 a.m.