SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team is entering the Big West Championships with their best record since the 2009 season.
The Gauchos finished in third place in the Big West at the end of the regular season with a 14-8 overall record and a 5-3 mark in conference play.
After finishing last season with an uncharacteristic sub-.500 record (11-14), the Gauchos seem to be back on track under the tutelage of first year head coach Simon Thibodeau.
"It feels good to have the 14-8 record and it shows that the girls have really improved," Thibodeau said. "We worked hard all fall and its great that it has come together in our matches. Their team spirit was always good and I'm proud of the way they have competed."
In talking about the team's turnaround from last season, Thibodeau said, "We changed the mentality with more positivity and more structure. As a result, the players believe in themselves and are playing at their full potential. They all came together and built more confidence together."
Thibodeau is no stranger to conference championships as he won seven Western Athletic Conference titles as the head coach at Fresno State.
Having already won six WAC Coach of the Year awards, Thibodeau has made a strong case for himself earning the same accolade in his first season in the Big West.
On the court, UCSB is led by its lone senior Erica Cano who has garnered a career-high 18 wins this season, while going 8-1 in the Big West. She is also riding a five-match win streak in singles heading into championship play.
"She is extremely mature and that's why she is our team captain," Thibodeau said in describing Cano. "Her willingness to work hard and be coached has made her one of the more valuable players we have."
Standout sophomore April Scatliffe has been playing in the No.1 spot in all of her singles matches this season going 8-11. As a freshman, she was playing the No. 3, but Thibodeau saw her potential to be matched up with the best.
"Playing No. 1 is really the toughest position in our sport," Thibodeau noted. "Despite being so young, she has reacted really well. I know this experience will only help her grow in future seasons."
Not to be overlooked, Kiersten Meehan was compiled the team's second-best singles record with a 17-9 mark. What's more impressive is that the junior garnered that record while playing No. 2 for the majority of the season. She also is 1-0 while playing in the No. 1 spot.
"She our Gaucho spirit," Thibodeau said. "She really brings our team together. And on the court it's impressive how well she has been playing the #2 after being the #4 last season. "
Meehan and Scatliffe have proven to be the best doubles combination on the team by compiling an 8-5 record.
"They have great energy together," Thibodeau said. "They're good friends both on and off the court, and they have this unspoken communication which shows in the chemistry they have."
Another player adding to the much improved play of the team in the 2013 is Stacy Yam. Last year as a freshman, she didn't play in a single match, but this year she has been one of UCSB's primary players in the #5 spot. She has 19-7 overall record.
UCSB will open Big West Championship play against No. 6 Cal State Northridge on Friday in Indian Wells, Calif. The Gauchos convincingly defeated the Matadors 6-1 on February 23.