Santa Barbara, Calif. – After nearly two weeks of not participating in any dual matches, the UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team returns to the courts this weekend with back-to-back road matches on Saturday and Sunday.
The Gauchos, who are currently third in the Big West standings with a 7-12 overall and 3-1 conference record, will first face UC Irvine on Saturday then will take on Cal State Fullerton the following day. UCSB is coming off a 4-1 win over Long Beach State from March 31.
Entering this weekend, UC Santa Barbara has four conference matches remaining before the Big West Tournament takes place from April 27-29.
UCSB's quest to the tourney could potentially result in a three-peat. But before looking ahead to a third-straight conference tournament championship victory, Santa Barbara will attempt to earn its first regular season title.
"We're excited to be playing Big West matches," Head Coach Simon Thibodeau said. "With four matches left and senior day coming up soon, we're still in good contention to win the regular season, and can get in a good position for the tournament. Having the two weeks off allowed us to heal a bit of pains and work on little things. But at this point in the season with only six players, we're more specific and don't do too much on the courts."
At the moment, Cal State Fullerton is one of two teams ahead of UCSB in the Big West standings. The Titans are 16-4 and 4-1 in conference play. On the other hand, Irvine is one of the bottom two teams in the conference rankings with a winless 0-5 Big West record. The Anteaters are 8-13 overall.
Although the win-loss column favors Cal State Fullerton, UCSB is the one with the true upper hand when considering its dominance of the Titans over the years.
According to UCSB women's tennis online records, which date back to the year 2000, the Gauchos have defeated Fullerton for nearly the past two decades. UCSB earned a 4-1 win over the Titans just last season.
While not as extensive, UC Santa Barbara also holds an advantage over the Anteaters. Since defeating UCI in the 2015 Big West Tournament semifinals after losing to the Anteaters earlier that season, the Gauchos have not fell short to their conference foe in the past two years.
Ranked No. 40 in the ITA doubles rankings, the senior doubles duo has won their last two doubles matches and own a 9-6 record this season.
In the singles field, senior Amanda Atanasson is the latest Gaucho to emerge with some consistent play. She comes into UCSB's weekend road trip having won her last consecutive matches and is 7-7 overall in singles play.
Different players stepping up throughout the season has been the narrative for a majority of the year. If the Gauchos can manage to build and maintain consistency in their final four matches, a regular season title or possible three-peat may not be too farfetched.
"You always have to try to be as healthy and fresh as possible for the tournament. There's a lot of excitement and nerves involved so I know the team will be super pumped and motivated to three-peat," Thibodeau said. "But we still have a couple weeks to try to improve. Our confidence is good when we're going into the conference season, especially after playing so many tough non-conference match. When the tournament comes, we'll be ready to try to keep our title."
Despite not being where they may have wanted to be in terms of wins, the Gauchos' expertise and status as the Big West Tournament reigning champs still makes it possible for them to hit the switch and spark a strong finish to the regular season.
UCSB will face UC Irvine at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 14. It will end its weekend with another 11 a.m. match against CSUF on Sunday, April 15.