For the second straight season, the UCSB women’s tennis team secured the Big West regular season title. This time, however, they will look to parlay that regular season success into a tournament title and a postseason berth.
With their 4-0 sweep over rivals Cal Poly on Saturday, the Gauchos clinched the top seed in the Big West tournament, finishing the regular season with an impressive 7-1 conference record. Fittingly, senior Stephanie Yamada won the deciding game in her last ever home game, knocking off her opponent in two sets and getting a post-match Gatorade bath to top it all off.
Now the winner of four consecutive matches, Santa Barbara heads into the Big West tournament with confidence and momentum on their side. On Friday, the Gauchos will kick off their postseason campaign against either UC Irvine or UC Riverside.
On paper, neither team should give Santa Barbara much trouble. Just weeks prior, the ‘Chos went into Riverside and knocked off the Highlanders 7-0. A week later, SB returned home to defeat UC Irvine 5-1.
While the Anteaters struggled in conference play, they went 12-5 in non-conference this year and seem the likelier opponent for UCSB on Friday.
Inconsistency has plagued Irvine all season — especially on court one, where UCI has struggled to a 10-13 record. On the other hand, junior Amit Lev Ari has dominated all season at the one spot for the Gauchos, coming into the postseason with a 6-1 record on the top court.
Another advantage for SB will be at the five spot, where Yamada has settled nicely after some early-season struggles. Yamada remains unbeaten when playing on court five; on the other hand, Irvine has failed to find a consistent contributor for this spot, with the team sporting an 11-11 record on the fifth court this season.
In the earlier matchup between these teams, the Gauchos completed all of their victories in only two sets, while Irvine’s lone victory came due to a forfeit on court six.
If UCSB can get past the quarterfinals, they will take on either fourth-seeded Hawai’ior fifth-seeded UC Davis in the semifinals. Historically, Hawai’i has caused problems for SB; last season, the fourth-seeded Rainbow Wahine knocked off the top-seeded Gauchos in a 4-3 nailbiter.
Earlier this year, Hawai’i handed UCSB its lone conference defeat, hammering Santa Barbara 6-1 in Honolulu. In that match, Petra Melounova — a junior who has been ranked in the top 100 at various points this year — handed Lev Ari her sole loss on court one. While almost every match went three sets, the defeat certainly proves that Hawai’i has the skill to knock off UCSB once again this postseason.
Santa Barbara may want to root for UC Davis to knock off Hawai’i, as UCSB defeated the Aggies 5-1 earlier this season. While the doubles point was canceled because of inclement weather, Davis’s sole victory came on court one, where junior Nikita Pradeep knocked off sophomore Elizaveta Volodko despite dropping the first set.
If the Gauchos can advance, UCSB will move on to the title game for the second time in the last three years. In 2017, the Gauchos knocked off the top-seeded Rainbow Wahine to advance to the NCAA tournament, where the ‘Chos were swept in the opening round by UCLA.
With a 13-7 overall record and a deep and talented roster, UCSB has dominated their Big West opponents all season. If they can keep up their hot play, Santa Barbara may very well find itself in the NCAA tournament field at the end of the weekend.
The Gauchos will kick off play Friday morning, when the ‘Chos take on either UC Irvine or UC Riverside at 8:30 a.m. at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Brandon Victor serves as a 2020-2021 sports editor. He has covered men’s tennis, men’s soccer and women’s basketball in his three years at the Daily Nexus.