After losing 4-3 in the Big West Tournament semifinals last season, the UCSB women’s tennis team has a lingering chip on its shoulders this season and a lot to prove.

“It definitely left a bitter feeling in our mouths,” Head Coach Pete Kirkwood said. “However, we’re only looking forward.”

UCSB has returned the main core of last year’s team, but has added a number of new players as well.

“We set our sights high this year,” Kirkwood said. “We have the balance of talent, new blood and experience for a good year.”

The return of junior Sofia Novak, who was studying abroad, will bolster the Santa Barbara lineup after a solid fall pre-season. Novak, who played in the first slot last year, is starting off this season in the third spot. Junior Natalia Lozano and junior Jill Damion will play in the top two spots to start off the year.

Given its solid preseason, UCSB is exceptionally eager to start the season today against Santa Clara and Sunday against Northern Arizona. Both defeated the Gauchos last season.

“We’re really excited to start the season off,” Damion said. “ [And] we’re expecting to win both matches.”

Last year’s dramatic 4-3 loss to Northern Arizona was the Gauchos’ third match in three days, which left the team’s legs exceptionally tired. Kirkwood believes that fresh legs to go along with his improved team can make a difference this time around. Santa Clara beat the Gauchos by the same margin.

“They [Northern Arizona] will also be tough,” Kirkwood said. “This season, we’re testing ourselves right away.”

Although Kirkwood wants to finish the weekend with two victories, these matches are mere stepping-stones to the team’s overarching season goal: a Big West Championship.

“We then want to get past at least one round in the NCAA Tournament,” Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood’s goal may seem lofty for a team that failed to qualify for the NCAA’s last season, but the 14-year veteran is confident in his team’s ability.

“We think we can do that [make it past 1st round of NCAA’s],” Kirkwood said. “The parity in women’s college tennis is incredible.”

Today’s match against Santa Clara begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s match against Northern Arizona beings at 10 a.m.