Indian Wells, Calif. – Four hours and 40 minutes. That was the amount of time needed for Saturday's battle between the UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team and the University of Hawaii. There was much hype around the Big West Tournament semifinal considering the Rainbow Wahine were the only team to defeat UCSB during conference play.
Tied 3-3, the matchup came down to a match point duel between UCSB's Amanda Atanasson and Hawaii's Marina Hruba. Despite having a 3-1 lead at one point, Atanasson couldn't hold off Hruba's comeback effort, and fell short in the matchup's third set by a final score of 7-5. The loss led to UCSB losing 4-3 and getting knocked out of the tournament, putting an end to its three-peat run.
This year will be the first time the Gauchos have not advanced to the NCAA Tournament since the 2014-15 season. UCSB ended its 2018 run with a 12-13 overall and 7-1 Big West record.
"The team went through a lot this year. I'm proud we made it this far. We are disappointed [considering] we were one point away from the final. [However], the program will keep moving forward. Natalie [Da Silveira], Amanda and Palina [Dubavets] really helped us in the last 3-4 years, and I thank them for being outstanding Gauchos," Head Coach Simon Thibodeau said.
Starting out the day, it had seemed that the Gauchos had set themselves up for a win after winning the doubles point.
Tallying UCSB's first doubles win of the day was its senior combo of Dubavets and Da Silveira. The match on court one ended quickly as the Gaucho pair ran through Hawaii's duo of Petra Melounova and Roxanne Resma, earning a 6-1 victory.
The win on court one was followed up by Santa Barbara's tandem of sophomore Amit Lev Ari and freshman Lise Sentenac, who notched a 6-4 win against the Rainbow Wahine's pair in Klara Pribylova and Nikola Dolakova.
UCSB's two wins sealed the doubles point, giving it a 1-0 lead heading into singles play.
In spite of its lead, Santa Barbara was the first to fall to begin singles play. Lev Ari and Pribylova went head-to-head on court No. 4. Starting out, Lev Ari had no answer for Pribylova as she endured a 6-1 loss in the first set. The second set was more competitive, yet still didn't end with Lev Ari on top as she lost 7-6 (7-0) in a tiebreaker in the second set. The loss knotted the score at 1-1.
The deficit grew for UCSB after Dubavets was defeated by Melounova, who is ranked No. 80 in the ITA singles rankings. It was an intense match between the two, as it needed three sets before coming to a winner.
Ultimately, it was Melounova who prevailed for the win with the final scores of 6-0, 1-6, 6-2, allowing Hawaii to break the match's tie and put it ahead by a 2-1 lead.
But the Gauchos managed to respond on the behalf of Stephanie Yamada. The third-year Gaucho won in back-to-back fashion with identical 6-4, 6-4 wins over Michelle Pits. Her win end Hawaii's lead, tying the match once again at 2-2.
It wasn't long after that UCSB got on the scoreboard again following a victory by Da Silveira. The veteran senior fell behind early in her matchup against Hawaii's Dolokova as she lost the first set 2-6.
Rather than allow the deficit to build, Da Silveira responded with consecutive set victories, winning by the scores of 6-3 and 6-2 to end the match and regain UCSB's lead at 3-2.
UCSB's lead didn't last long however as Resma countered UCSB's previous win with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 win of her own over Sentenac, ending UCSB's lead and tying the match at 3-3.
At the end of the day, each match led up to the grand finale between Atanasson and Hruba on court three.
The momentum of the final match began in favor of Atanasson following her 6-2 win in the first set. The final two sets were so highly intense to the point that the contest nearly ended with back-to-back tiebreakers.
Atanasson's early lead proved to be not enough as Hruba won the match's final two sets by final scores of 7-6 (7-5) and 7-5, securing a 4-3 victory for the Rainbow Wahine.
"It was a heartbreaking loss today. Not only because it is the conference tournament, but also because we couldn't have been any closer than in today's match," Dubavets said. "We left it on the court today, and credit to Hawaii as they fought as hard as they could. For seniors, it was our last dual match and everyone is very emotional about that, but that's how life works."
Although the dual match season comes to an end for the Gauchos, it is likely that Dubavets and Da Silveira will earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament Doubles bracket. The pair is No. 42 in the ITA Doubles rankings.
Their trip to the NCAA Tournament will be confirmed as of Wednesday, May 2.