SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UC Santa Barbara men's tennis team quest for a National Championship begins on Saturday as it takes on No. 10/10th-seeded USC in hopes of upsetting the Trojans at their own place at Marks Tennis Center.
UCSB (18-6 overall, 5-0 Big West) comes into this matchup winners of 10 straight and most recently beat Cal Poly in the Big West Championship for its fourth straight conference title and fifth in six years. USC (17-6 overall, 6-2 Big West) is coming off a loss in the Pac-12 Championship, but it is making its 12th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, and 40th overall appearance.
The Trojans also beat the Gauchos earlier this season, 6-1 at the Marks Tennis Center. The only victory for the Gauchos on that day came from freshman Victor Krustev, although senior captain Simon Freund, sophomore Joseph Guillin and junior Nicolas Moreno de Alboran all pushed their opponents to three sets. It was an especially impressive performance from Moreno de Alboran who nearly upset the No. 11 player in the country at the time.
That match was the second of the year for Santa Barbara and it has grown a lot in many different facets since then. At one point this season, UCSB was 6-5 overall, but since then it has enjoyed many great wins including two wins against top-50 opponents and not giving up a single point during conference play.
Individually, every player has also improved vastly since that last match. No. 67 ranked Moreno de Alboran, the Big West Player of the Year, has won 11 of his last 12 matches and holds a 15-5 record in dual match play. He will have a rematch with Holt who is currently the No. 10 player in the nation.
Other key notables include All-Big West First Teamers senior Simon Freund and sophomore transfer Joseph Guillin. Freund has been on fire as of late winning his last 10 matches and has really made a home for himself at the No. 3 spot.
In his first season as a Gaucho, Guillin has a very impressive 19-2 dual match record this season and will look to avenge one of his two losses this season as it came against USC's Laurens Verboven. Guillin, who was at court four when he lost to Verboven, has also made a name for himself at the No. 2 court where he is 8-0.
Junior transfer Hironori Koyanagi has also vastly improved having won his last seven matches while Krustev has managed to settle nicely dropping back into the No. 6 spot where he is unbeaten at 3-0. Lastly, usually at the No. 4 spot, junior Anders Holm has had a rollercoaster season, but he has won his last four matches.
While the Gauchos have some great players at singles, the team knows they will need to do everything in their power to take the doubles point to really have a shot. However, that will be easier said than done as USC has been nearly unbeatable in doubles play this year. On court one, they are 17-5 on the season, while on court two they are 17-4.
UCSB takes on USC in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 12th at Marks Tennis Center. Follow @ucsbtennis for live tweets of the match.