Jan. 24, 2007
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In 2006, the UC Santa Barbara men's tennis team won the Big West Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the last five years. In 2007, head coach Marty Davis believes he has the tools to do even more.
"With the players we have added," Davis began, "I think we have a chance to take the next step towards a National Championship. I believe it's realistic for us to start thinking along the lines of competing with traditional powerhouse programs and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16."
Davis has reasons to be optimistic. While the Gauchos lost their top player from 2006, Big West Player of the Year Nick Brotman, they return several key contributors and add some extremely talented newcomers.
Sophomore Bijan Hejazi, a First Team All-Big West choice and the league's Freshman of the Year while playing No. 2 in 2006, is among several key returnees in 2007. Hejazi, along with senior co-Captain Elad Stern and junior Anders Dalskov, are expected to lead the way. Hejazi was 20-6 overall as a freshman.
"Bijan could start the season at No. 1," Davis said. "He had an outstanding first season and I expect him to be even better as a sophomore."
Dalskov is another outstanding returnee for UCSB. In 2006, he logged a 16-8 singles record, including 8-6 at No. 3. He was named Second Team All-Big West in singles. In addition, he was named First Team All-Big West in doubles after going 13-12. In 2007, he is slated to team with newcomer Jack Hui (Hong Kong/College of the Desert) at No. 1 doubles and also be a regular in the singles lineup.
"Anders was our most improved player last year," Davis said. "He will continue to play No. 1 doubles and he will help to make the middle of our lineup very, very strong."
The Gauchos' only senior, Stern, will also be a regular in the lineup. It was Stern's courageous victory while battling cramps and desert heat, that broke a 3-3 tie and gave UCSB a 4-3 win over Pacific in the Big West Championship in 2006.
Davis, the eighth-year head coach expects two of his new players to play high in the lineup and believes that either one has the ability to play No. 1.
Hui, a junior, won the California Community College singles title in 2006 and finished second in doubles. An All-American, he helped lead COD to the California State Community College team championship.
"Jack had a great fall season," Davis said. "He went 9-3 and had wins over players from USC and Arizona State. He is a great addition to our program."
The second newcomer of note is freshman Philip Therp (Birkeroed, Denmark). Therp was a seven-time Danish National Championship finalist in singles and a seven-time Danish National Champion in doubles . He too had an outstanding fall, including a win over Denver University's Adam Holmstrom, and Derek Drabble of the University of Washington.
"All three of our top players are capable of playing No. 1," assessed Davis. "Jack and Philip proved in fall play that they can compete with anyone in the country. Along with Bijan, they may be the three best players in the conference."
The No. 6 singles and the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles spots are wide open.
"No. 6 singles and the other two doubles teams are very competitive," said Davis. "We have a lot of depth and possibilities. For the doubles, we will try out a number of combinations."
There will be a number of players battling for the No. 6 singles spot. Sophomore Max Taylor, who was 12-14 in dual matches in 2006, will get an opportunity at the spot. Sophomore Grant Robertson played in three dual matches as a singles player in 2006, but Davis believes his best opportunity to crack the lineup will be as a doubles player. Two others vying for time at No. 6 will be sophomore transfer Nigel Barton (San Jose, Costa Rica/Tulane University) and reshirt freshman Josh Finkelstein (Hong Kong/Nordhoff HS in Ojai, Calif.). Scott Hohenstein, a freshman in 2006 who would have contributed in 2007, will redshirt after suffering a wrist injury in the fall.
Whoever winds up playing No. 6 singles or No. 2 and No. 3 doubles, Davis likes UCSB's chances in 2007.
"This is the best team that I've coached," Davis concluded. "We lost Nick (Brotman), but we gained two players capable of playing No. 1 and while the conference is stronger this year, I think we are too. Our experience playing Cal in the NCAA Tournament last year should also help us. This could be a year when we go to the Sweet 16."
The last time the Gauchos advanced to the Sweet 16 was in 1997 and several things would have to fall into place for them to do so in 2007, but UCSB seems to have as much talent as it has in a number of years and that's a very good start to the quest.