When a UC Santa Barbara student thinks about the most popular sports team on campus, it might be obvious to think the answers would be men’s basketball or men’s soccer.
But when that same student thinks about what the most successful team has been on this campus in the past 20 years, it might be hard to think about men’s tennis.
However, men’s tennis is the correct answer.
In the past 20 years, the UCSB men’s tennis program has won 12 Big West Tournament titles and made 12 NCAA Tournament appearances; no other UCSB program has won more tournament titles in the past decade as the men’s tennis team.
And the man leading this team is none other than Marty Davis.
This past Saturday, Davis made conference history, leading the UCSB men’s tennis team to its fifth-straight conference title.
“Winning [Big West] titles never gets old. It is always a blast and always a new experience,” Davis said.
Davis’ work has not gone unnoticed. On Wednesday, Davis took home his 11th (and fourth consecutive) Big West Coach of the Year honor.
Since taking over during the 1999-2000 season, Davis has only finished worse than third in the conference once. Since 2001, he has won 12 of the last 18 regular season titles.
Davis and his team currently own an insane 32-match win streak over Big West opponents.
“What we have been able to do says a lot about this program but also about these players. I love coaching these guys and having Blake [Muller] on my staff certainly helps a lot,” Davis said.
Still, what Davis has done transcends beyond the local sphere. Davis has transformed the UCSB tennis program into not just the best in the Big West conference but one of the best mid-majors in the country.
Every single year, Coach Davis has his team on the cusp of the ITA national rankings and every year his team is able to come up with big wins against nationally-ranked and highly-respected tennis programs.
This past year, the Gauchos defeated then No. 17 Oregon 4-3. It was the first time in Davis’ career that UCSB bested a top-20 program in the country. Before this, Davis coached his team to a win over No. 22 Texas Tech in 2012.
“I was so pumped when we won. Wins against programs like that are hard to come by but we always work so hard to take advantage of them. I always believe we are a top-25 team in the country and wins like that remind me why,” Davis said.
Even beyond the coaching on the court, Davis is truly a man athletes respect and admire for the time he has put into this program and into his players.
But on the court, Davis’ coaching is clearly special. Under Davis’ guidance, numerous UCSB players have reached outstanding heights.
In 2000, Simon Shen was named Big West Player of the Year after going 20-0 in dual match singles, 30-3 overall and advancing to the NCAA Championships as an individual.
In 2002, not only did the Gauchos win their first league title under Davis, but Carlos Palencia was named Big West Player of the Year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament as well. Palencia was named Player of the Year again in 2003.
In 2017, the UCSB doubles tandem of Morgan Mays and Simon Freund qualified for the NCAA Championships.
This year, Davis has coached a UCSB team that at one point had three players ranked in nationally in the ITA Top 125, the first time that has happened in the program’s history.
He also is largely responsible for the development of senior co-captain Nicolas Moreno de Alboran, who started the season ranked No. 6 in the country, the highest any Gaucho has ever reached in men’s tennis.
Last year, the New York native was close to knocking off the No. 1 player in the country in the NCAA singles championships.
This year, Moreno de Alboran won his second Big West Player of the Year honors, only the sixth in league history to win the award twice, and he also earned a spot in the NCAA singles and doubles championship.
He is currently ranked No. 16 in the country after earning a 14-3 dual-match record. He has also won 12 of his last 13 matches.
“I am so grateful for what Marty has done for me. He gave me an opportunity not many others were and he made me the player I am today,” Moreno de Alboran said.
Moreno de Alboran will be joined by teammate Joseph Guillin at the NCAA singles championships, the first time in program history UCSB will have multiple representatives.
Still, the work is not done for Davis. While he has earned 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, a win has eluded him every time.
In fact, the one thing that still drives Coach Davis every year is the opportunity to help this program win its first NCAA match since 1998.
Every year, however, the Gauchos get closer and closer.
Last season, UCSB nearly upset USC in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. The 4-1 score might not indicate it was a close match, but the Gauchos at one point held first set leads on four of the six courts.
“We played so well last year, it was hard to be mad, but it did show that we are right there. Our goal every year is to win a round at the NCAA’s, now we just have to get it done,” Davis said.
This year, UCSB drew No. 24 Texas Tech in the first round of the tournament and Coach Davis could not be more excited to make this the year they get the win.
“The team is happy, I am super happy. It’s always hard for us to not draw the host team in the first round and that makes a big difference,” Davis said.
“This will not be easy, but I am confident in this team and in us to get the job done.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the May 2, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.