Jan. 17, 2006
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It's been a while since UCSB men's tennis coach Marty Davis has had the type of depth he has this year.
With freshmen figuring to carry a portion of the load for the Gauchos this year, Davis has much reason to be optimistic about the future of the program, but still, he's downright giddy about the present.
"We have six freshmen, which is just unheard of. One of them probably has to redshirt, but I'd guess the other five will get playing time," Davis said. "I haven't really had a bench in the past, but this year, there's going to be a lot of parity so guys will be fighting. It should be fun. I'm very excited."
Despite the young composition of the team, nothing will change for Santa Barbara in terms of goals.
"We'll probably take some lumps early in the season but we'll be ready in April for the conference championships," Davis said. "We expect to win the conference championship every year and this year is no different; that's what we should do."
If the Gauchos are to make a run at the Big West Championships, senior Nick Brotman will be the one to lead them there. Brotman returns to the Gauchos following a stellar junior season in which he earned First Team all-Big West honors in both singles and doubles.
"He's the heir apparent to the #1 position," Davis said. "He's capable of beating anyone in the country this year. He's ready to have a big senior year."
Likely to keep Brotman motivated this year is incoming freshman Bijan Hejazi. The Santa Clara, Calif. native comes to Santa Barbara as one of the top juniors in the country. In his first year in Under-18s, Hejazi was ranked No. 31 in the nation and this year figures to flirt with the top ten.
"[Hejazi] is the best California recruit we've had in years and he's going to be an impact player this year," Davis said. He's a lefty who generates so much racquet speed. He can hit a winner from any place on the court at any time."
While Davis has yet to determine his lineup, several freshmen will challenge the UCSB upperclassmen for starting spots. Scott Hohenstein, Grant Robertson, Max Taylor, Carsten Thorstensen and Josh Finkelstein are all capable of cracking the top six, according to Davis.
Hohenstein, an Anaheim, Calif. native, comes to the program as the best doubles player in southern California. Winner of the prestigious Ojai High School doubles championship last year, Hohenstein should be a major factor in the Gauchos doubles point this year.
"He has a great serve and perhaps the best hands and volley I've ever seen," Davis said. "He'll definitely be starting for us in doubles, and if he improves his mobility, he'll be a force for us in singles as well."
Santa Barbara High product Grant Robertson is another Gaucho newcomer who made his name in doubles.
"He's the most improved player this fall by far. His balance, volley and serve have gotten tremendously better," Davis said. "If he continues upon this track, he's got a chance to work his way into the lineup."
Max Taylor is the top-ranked junior in Northern California and was ranked as high as 26th in the nation in juniors, also has a chance to be in the starting lineup as a freshman, according to Davis.
"His versatility and ability to adapt his game to frustrate his opponents is what I really like about Max," Davis said. "He's very mature mentally and recognizes strengths and weaknesses in his opponents. He makes people play to their weaknesses."
Carsten Thorstensen, a walk-on from Norway, has already posted several solid wins for the Gauchos in the fall and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Wilson/ITA Regional Championships' backdraw.
"Carsten's been a pleasant surprise for us," Davis said. "He has a huge serve and giant ground strokes and he looks like a starter." With such a tremendous youth movement, returners Anders Dalskov and Elad Stern will be hard-pressed to earn spots in the top half of the lineup. Dalskov, a Second Team all-Big West selection in doubles last year, figures to still have a spot in the doubles point, while Stern, the winningest Gaucho two years ago, will again be expected to make hefty contributions.
"[Stern] is probably our most competitive player. He wins matches by bringing his opponents to cramps," Davis said. "He's 24 years old now - he's a man - he's been through the military back home in Israel and is our leader in a lot of respects."
Hagan Brody, co-captaining the Gauchos alongside Stern, was solid for the Gauchos in the No. 6 spot a year ago, posting a 4-1 record while going 8-4 overall and will be ready to go if called upon again.
Rounding out the roster is freshman Josh Finkelstein. The Hong Kong native is currently recovering from Deep Vein Trombosis and is a likely candidate to redshirt for the Gauchos.
"He's going to be a great asset to us. He has a huge serve at 6'3" so we're anxious to get him back," Davis said.
With a schedule that includes 13 teams who finished in the national rankings last year, 2005-06 should be an education in resiliency for the relatively inexperienced Gauchos. Nevertheless, the Gauchos will take aim at the conference championship that has so narrowly eluded them the past two seasons.