It’s crunch time for the UCSB men’s tennis team this weekend.
Everything the men have been working toward this season comes down to how the team plays in the next few days. Either the Gauchos emerge as back-to-back champions or slip to a middle-of-the pack team.
The Big West Tournament in Indian Wells is where it will all go down, and it will be the determinant for the quality of the 2014 season for the Gauchos on the court.
UCSB enters the Big West Tournament as the defending champions after Santa Barbara was the first team to win the tournament, coming in as the fifth seed last spring. This year, the Gauchos come in as the third seed with targets on their backs as every team wants to be the one to knock out the defending champs.
The Gauchos enter the tournament with an 8-13 overall record but a 3-1 conference record. Last time the Gauchos faced off against UCR, the Gauchos stomped on the Highlanders, winning every match for a 7-0 dual match victory. The Highlanders enter the tournament as the weakest team at the No. 6 seed. UCR posted a 2-21 record and was 0-5 in conference play.
“We expect Riverside to come out playing hard,” Head Coach Marty Davis said. “Last time we played them they pushed us hard in doubles, and they will be one or two guys better than they were last time out.”
Freshman Cooper Bridge leads the Highlanders with nine dual match victories in singles and will be paired with fellow freshman Michael Carella at No. 1 singles. Junior Luis Gastao is expected to play No. 1 singles.
A main concern for the Gauchos heading into the Big West Tournament is whether No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles player junior Tobias Galskov will be fit to play. Galskov was ill and not able to compete in the Gauchos’ 4-3 loss to Cal Poly on Saturday, but looks to be better for the match on Thursday. He has not been practicing this week, but plans to travel with the team and it appears that it will be close to a game-time decision on whether he competes or not.
Following Galskov, the Gauchos look for their older players to step up as they know how to win this tournament. Junior Ziad Sultan will be expected to hold his own against tough opponents playing at No. 2, or possibly No. 1 in Galskov’s absence. Sultan will hope to build off his 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) victory playing at No. 1 over freshman Ben Donovan of Cal Poly. Along with Sultan, UCSB will need lone senior on the team Sasha Gryaznov to pick up the slack as a team leader and try to improve on his five match victories this season.
Also expected to play a big role this weekend will be star freshmen Teague Hamilton and Erik Johnsson. Hamilton has won 14 matches this season, tying him with Galskov for the most on the team, while Johnsson has won 11 matches playing at No. 4 singles.
“The goal is definitely to win [The Big West], but it’s gonna be tough,” Galskov said. “I believe we have the team to win, and we can only start thinking about the NCAA tournament if we play our best this weekend.”
The tournament will be held at Indian Wells, where there is an expected high temperature of 90 degrees on Thursday. The Gauchos hope their fitness training will be a huge factor in helping them to defeat their opponents this weekend.
Also competing in the tournament will be No. 1 seed Hawaii, No. 4 seed UC Davis, and No. 5 seed UC Irvine. The Gauchos’ only loss in conference play came at the hands of No. 2 seed Cal Poly and the Mustangs did not play Hawaii as the match was rained out in February.
The quest for back-to-back championships begins on Thursday at 9 a.m. against UC Riverside.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear in the print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Kenneth Song of the Daily Nexus.