Gauchos Travel to Berkeley for Cal Fall Invitational to Kick Off Season

Stephanie Yamada (Photo by Eric Isaacs)
Stephanie Yamada (Photo by Eric Isaacs)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -  The UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team, featuring a new look roster, opens the 2018-19 season at the Cal Fall invitational in Berkeley, Calif. this weekend.

Following a first-place performance from Santa Barbara during Big West conference play last season, the Gauchos look to get off to a hot start as they look to defend their Big West regular season title.

After defeating Hawai'i in the Big West Tournament championship final the previous two years, the experienced Gauchos squad was determined to come away with a fourth straight Big West Tournament trophy and, more importantly, a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

While the Gauchos pulled off an incredible cluster of wins during Big West regular season play, the team ultimately came up short in the Big West Tournament, losing to the eventual champions University of Hawai'i 4-3 in the Semifinal.

After the disappointing finish to the season, Coach Simon Thibodeau immediately shifted his focus to integrating new recruits to replace the trio of departing star seniors Paulina Dubavets, Natalie Da Silveira, and Amanda Atanasson.

With his sixth season in the books at UCSB, Thibodeau continues to expand his recruiting vision as he adds talented and tenacious newcomers with international and professional experience alike.

"We want to dominate...we have goals to rank nationally," expressed Coach Thibodeau while preparing for his seventh season in Santa Barbara. "We feel like we can compete with anyone in the country, we try to recruit good players that have that kind of mentality."

Thibodeau did just that as he added four internationally-born athletes to this already daunting Gauchos roster. Czech junior transfer Dominika Paterova spearheads the group of incoming transfers, swapping the University of Miami for sunny Santa Barbara over the summer.

"If you look at the Top-20 in the world, maybe 2 or 3 (are) Americans and the rest is international," said Thibodeau when discussing the programs expansion to international recruiting. "We needed to boost up with more elite international (talent), and hopefully in the future get back more balance between American and international players."

Thibodeau also added two exceedingly promising freshmen in Anastasia Goncharova, originally out of Moscow, Russia, and Tiffany Lagarde, a native of Quebec, Canada.

Goncharova thrived while playing at Evanston Township High School in Chicago, Ill. as she championed her squad to consecutive Central Suburban League triumphs on her way to back-to-back MVP seasons. The freshman standout ranked as high as No. 3 in Chicago and peaked at No. 5 in the Midwest. Her name also landed on the Top-30 United States recruiting list for the Class of 2018.

On the other hand, Lagarde blossomed in the junior stage of her career as a U14 Canadian Singles champion while also taking home the U16 and U18 Canadian Doubles titles. Ranking at No. 5 in Canada and No. 1 in Quebec, Tiffany peaked at No. 133 on the ITF rankings as she racked up victories in the grade ITF 3, 4, and 5 for singles play and grade ITF 4 and 5 for doubles competition.

"I think they're both really ready for college...two experienced freshman that are going to add a lot of talent," Thibodeau emphasized as he reviewed his new roster. "The two freshmen, I think they will be battling, maybe, for Freshman of the Year in the conference...I'm really happy that they have decided to come with me, build as ambassadors, and make history with this team."

The newcomers enter into a historically successful program as they piggyback on a plethora of antecedently successful players led by senior captain Stephanie Yamada. In Yamada's previous three seasons with the program, the team has either won the Big West Tournament or the Big West regular season title as her success has helped to foster a winning culture in Santa Barbara.

"I kind of love the diversity," said Yamada when discussing her role in integrating the new recruits. "The two transfers, we can also use their experiences. This helps us incorporate and assimilate to their needs...it's more about influencing the encouragement and support of a team environment."

Not only does Yamada inspire her teammates to get the best out of them, but she wants to build a culture that animates a positive sense of camaraderie for all of the new freshman and transfer additions.

"I'm more so the welcoming type," beamed the veteran Yamada with a grin. "When I came in, I (thought) 'tennis is an individual sport,' yet college tennis is all about the team. You want to win because of the team."

You can follow the Gauchos as they compete over the weekend here on Instagram @ucsbwtennis. You can also follow their Twitter page for updates @UCSBWTennis. Other teams competing at the Cal Fall Invitational include BYU, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Fresno State, Nevada, Sacramento State, Santa Clara, Saint Mary's, and San Francisco.