SANTA BARBARA, Calif.- Dual match season gets underway for the UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team this weekend as it travels to Gainesville, Fla. to take on the University of Florida during ITA Kick-Off weekend.
The Gauchos have four players returning from last year's Big West regular season championship crusade including senior Captain Stephanie Yamada, who went undefeated in conference play last season, and junior Amit Lev-Ari, who earned honorable mention in both singles and doubles for the Big West All-Conference team.
Lev-Ari thrived in doubles when paired with sophomore Lise Sentenac who was also named as an honorable mention for last year's All-Conference team following an upset victory in the Big West Tournament semifinal against Hawaii's Doubles First Team All-Conference honorees in the deadly Wahine duo comprised of Klara Pribylova and Nikola Dolakova.
Coming off of an injury, sophomore Elizaveta Volodko made her much anticipated return to the court following a monstrous 10-5 start on tour last year. The Moscow native hopes to carry on her success into her sophomore campaign which started off with an emphatic doubles championship while paired with freshman Anastasia Goncharova at the Cal Fall Invitational.
Goncharova enters her freshman season along with fellow first-year Tiffany Lagarde who are each expected to be major anchors for the Gauchos lineup this season. Goncharova combined for a 5-0 doubles record on tour when matched up with Volodko or Lagarde.
As for Lagarde, the true freshman posted the highest total of singles wins through tournament season with seven total solo wins in just three tournaments. Lagarde and Goncharova both joined UCSB with a competitive mentality first and foremost as each are expected to compete for Big West Conference Freshman of the Year honors.
"Right now, we're going to start with Tiff [Lagarde] at No. 1," said Coach Thibodeau praising his young core heading into the weekend. "She expected to play No. 1 when she got here. Even though she's a freshman, she has that mentality, that confidence to play with anyone."
Rounding out the Gaucho lineup is a pair of east coast transfers in junior Dominika Paterova and junior Juliana Valero. Valero comes from University of Alabama after sitting out with an injury during her sophomore season while Paterova makes the move from University of Miami which finished at No. 15 in Division I NCAA women's tennis last season.
Paterova shined during singles play last season with a 13-6 overall solos record, but the then-sophomore Paterova put her name on the map with a 15-3 overall doubles record, including going 10-1 during ACC play when paired with Ulyana Shirokova.
Whatever the matchup may entail, Head Coach Simon Thibodeau has assembled a squad of assassins as he looks to repeat as Big West Champs for the second consecutive year with hopes of capturing a third Big West Tournament Championship in his seventh season with the Gauchos.
The UC Santa Barbara women's tennis team opens up dual match season in Florida over the weekend. 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.