The UCSB men’s tennis team begins its quest to defend its Big West Championship from a year ago this weekend as it travels to Washington to play matches against Portland tomorrow, Washington on Saturday and Oregon on Monday.

Last April, the Gauchos surprised many critics and came out victorious in the Big West Championship as the fifth-seeded team. The team upset top-seeded Long Beach State in the semifinals and then defeated No. 3 Pacific, 4-2, to win the tournament.

Coming into this season, the Gauchos will look to regain their title and go further in the NCAA tournament after losing in the first round to No. 11 Pepperdine 4-0. They hope to improve on their 12-14 overall record and 2-4 mark in the Big West. The team will rely on star junior Ziad Sultan, who had an 18-12 record in singles and 14-11 in doubles.

The Gauchos had a successful fall season with tournaments for individual players and doubles teams. They competed at the UCSB Classic, ITA Regionals and SoCal Invitational tournaments as practice for the upcoming spring season. Stand out performers were Sultan and senior Sasha Gryaznov, who together made it to the quarterfinals of the SoCal Invitational with Sultan making it to the semifinals of the singles bracket. The team then had two weeks of practice before winter break and has been working hard since coming back to Santa Barbara in preparation for this season.

“Our goals this year are to defend our Big West Title and qualify for the NCAA tournament,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “We can do both of these things if our team competes for every point.”

Key players for the Gauchos will be Sultan, sophomore Greg Scott, who was named as honorable mention for singles in the Big West Conference as a freshman, Gryaznov, who will play at the top doubles spot with Sultan, and Tobias Galskov, a junior transfer from Foothill Community College where he was ranked as No. 1 in singles and No. 4 in doubles in community college rankings.

Galskov also won the California State Singles Championship. Sultan and Galskov, who was ranked 79th in the country’s NCAA preseason rankings, will battle in practice for the top singles spot. Freshmen Teague Hamilton and Erik Johnsson and sophomore Andrew Riminton will also be contending for the chance to contribute this season.

Traveling to Washington following the Portland match will be a tough test for the Gauchos, as they will have to play their matches indoors and at night, two things the players will not be used to.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Davis said. “I want to see our team be aggressive with their serves and overall play. All I ask is that they compete throughout the entire match.”

UCSB begins play tomorrow night against Portland at 5 p.m.


A version of this article appeared on page 6 of January 16, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of The Daily Nexus.