Last Sunday, the UCSB men’s tennis team celebrated their fourth straight regular season title, knocking off Hawaii in front of their home crowd.
If all goes according to Head Coach Marty Davis’ plan, the Gauchos will be celebrating once again this Sunday after winning their fifth consecutive Big West Conference tournament.
After amassing a 5-0 conference record — and only dropping three total sets throughout conference play — the ‘Chos earned the top seed and a first round bye in this year’s tournament. As such, Santa Barbara’s first match will come on Friday at 3 p.m. against the winner of Thursday’s matchup between fourth-seeded UC Riverside and fifth-seeded UC Davis.
All year, the Gauchos have leaned on their trio of nationally-ranked athletes: No.16 Nicolas Moreno De Alboran, No.58 Joseph Guillin, and No.115 Victor Krustev.
In his senior year, Moreno De Alboran has had yet another stellar year for the team, finishing the season with a 12-2 record on court one. If Moreno De Alboran finishes the season in the top 16, he will become the first UCSB All-American since David Decret in 1992.
Junior Guillin and sophomore Krustev have also provided steady contributions from the second and third courts respectively, with the two finishing a combined 19-8 on their best courts. With arguably the three top singles players in the conference — and each team only needing four points to secure victory — the Gauchos seem on paper to be the clear favorites for the title this weekend.
Even on the lower courts, Santa Barbara has seen improved play from some of their veterans. On court six, senior Anders Holm seems to have found his stroke, winning seven straight matches.
For any team to knock off the ‘Chos, they will likely need to steal the doubles point and establish some momentum heading into singles play. As of late, however, UCSB has dominated doubles play. On court one, Moreno De Alboran and Holm have won their last six matches, while on court two the duo of Guillin and Krustev have a 9-1 overall record on the season.
On paper, Santa Barbara shouldn’t have too much trouble with their Friday opponent, with the Gauchos sweeping both Davis and Riverside 4-0 in their previous matchup this season.
In the match against Riverside, UCSB opted to rest both Moreno de Alboran and Holm — something the Highlanders won’t have the luxury of this time around. Despite being the higher seed between the two potential opponents, UCR only have a 1-4 conference record, and shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to the ‘Chos dominance.
If Santa Barbara wins Friday, they will get a day off on Saturday before playing in the finals on Sunday at 9 a.m.
In that game, the ‘Chos will likely take on either UC Irvine or Cal Poly, with the Anteaters arguably posing the biggest threat to UCSB. In the first matchup between the two teams, UCI took two points off the Gauchos, before ultimately falling 4-2. Surprisingly, Krustev was one of the players to lose for UCSB, with sophomore Joseph Rotheram also dropping his match on court five. Still, with no individual nearly as talented as Moreno De Alboran, the Anteaters will need all hands on deck on the other five courts to defeat the Gauchos.
If Santa Barbara can win the conference tournament this year, it will be their 12th conference tournament title under Davis in his 19 years as coach. In Moreno De Alboran’s last season, and with a postseason berth on the line, look for the Gauchos to come out firing over the weekend in their quest to hoist the trophy for the fifth consecutive season.
UCSB will begin their postseason on Friday at 3 p.m. at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.