Last season saw the UCSB women’s tennis team reach a mark of 13-11 and 6-3 in conference, only to fall to UC Irvine in the semifinals of the Big West Conference Championship. Friday morning will mark the start of the first annual Santa Barbara Classic and the beginning of the Gauchos’ quest for redemption.
“It was a tough match that could have gone either way,” Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “We really believe we could have won that match. It raised our expectations for this year.”
Santa Barbara has good reason to expect a lot this season. Not only are they returning three of their five All Big-West players, this season also marks the return of senior Michelle Murphy, who, after playing in the number-one singles position and earning 2nd team All Big West honors as a sophomore, decided not to return to the team during her junior year. Now that she’s back, Kirkwood is confident that he has enough veterans to lead a team that is loaded with young talent.
“[Freshman] Kiersten Meehen has been a great surprise,” Kirkwood said. “She’s played really well and is challenging for number one on our team. We’re doing great things in the fall and we’re got a few more players coming in. We’re loaded this season.”
Though stacked with talent, the Gauchos have yet to test themselves in competitive action so far this season. On Friday, however, they will find out how well they handle the pressure.
“We just want to see if we play any different against outside competition,” Kirkwood said. “This is the first test, especially for the freshmen. We’ve got the ITA Regionals coming up and it’s always good to go into that tournament with a few matches under your belt because that tournament can make you famous.”
UCSB will be competing against players from the University of Arizona, Pepperdine, Cal Poly, Brigham Young University, Eastern Washington University and the University of Denver. The number-one seed in the tournament is Pepperdine’s Ally Walters. With such stiff competition in their first tournament of the season, Kirkwood is glad to have the home court advantage.
“It’s just good for our players,” Kirkwood said. “It’s always good when you can sleep in your own bed. The advantage is on their side.”
The tournament is split into three flights, both for singles and doubles, in order to better manage the number of players. For singles play, Meehen and Murphy, along with juniors Jill Damion and Jordan Dockendorf, will compete in the A Flight. The B Flight will be composed of Casey Reede and sophomore Erica Cano, while Samantha Chou and junior Alexandra McIntosh make up the C Flight. Junior Natalia Lozano will also compete, but only in doubles play as a member of the A Flight. The tournament will begin Friday morning at 10 a.m. with the first round of doubles matches.