Moraga, Calif. – The UCSB women's tennis team made its return to the playing courts by competing in day one of the Saint Mary's College Fall Invitational. The collegiate debuts of freshmen Elizaveta Volodko and Lise Sentenac have been the biggest reward for UCSB as the pair have clinched a spot in the semifinals after winning in both the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals within the 'Doubles A' draws.
Volodko topped the 'Singles A' field as the No. 1 seeded player but was unable to meet such lofty expectations as she was upset 2-6; 7-6(6); 7-5 at the hands of UC Davis' sophomore Kristina Breisacher.
Making a run within the consolation bracket is the doubles pairing of sophomore Amit Lev Ari and junior Stephanie Yamada, who happen to be in the finals of the elimination set of matches after automatically advancing to the semifinals due to a quarterfinals bye.
Landing the pair in the finals, in which they were supposed to face UC Davis' senior Lani-Rae Green and sophomore Isabella Von Ebbe in the prior round, was an undisclosed injury on Von Ebbe's behalf.
Setting the stage for the finals appearance was Lev Ari and Yamada, who put up a hard fought effort but fell short in a Round of 16 tiebreaker match to Sacramento State's Maria Gonzalez and Ana Loaiza Esquivias by a score of 8-7(5).
But UCSB's doubles pair bounced back in the Consolation Round of 16, defeating Saint Mary's of California's senior pair Kareena Manji and Vanessa Nommensen. Closed out with a tiebreaker ending, the Gauchos were consistent when it mattered most to tally the 8-7(1) win.
Playing as the No. 3 seed, Volodko and Sentenac were first tasked with facing Big West counterpart UC Davis, who was represented by sophomore Kelsie Bryant and senior Kristy Jorgenson.
The matchup between the two doubles pairs went down to the wire, concluding with the Gauchos' two first-year players coming up clutch during a tiebreaker bout to notch an 8-7(2) victory.
It was a battle of youth in the Gauchos' quarterfinal matchup against Fresno State as Santa Barbara's freshmen went head-to-head with the Bulldogs' combo of freshman Alessia Dario and reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year, sophomore Katerina Stloukalova.
Despite not having the advantage in experience, Volodko and Sentenac capitalized upon their momentum to capture a dominant 8-2 win.
With a current roster of seven players, in which four are currently competing; there was a little uncertainty as to how UCSB would perform on the tournament's opening day. Understanding that it will take time, Head Coach Simon Thibodeau remains patient in anticipation of the Gauchos' performance throughout the rest of the weekend.
"Last year, we basically were relying on eight players. Right now, we must focus on these seven to get better. Elizaveta and Lise will gain experience and get better," he said. "As far as the others, it's just good for them to have more matches and get ready. We need to focus more on the process to improve the little things. I don't see it as a problem. Many of these players have played tons of matches in Europe and they should settle in pretty quickly. I think the fall will help a lot."
Similar to Volodko, each of the other aforementioned Gauchos participated in 'Singles A' play as well with Lev Ari being the lone player to earn a victory. She defeated Von Ebbe prior to her injury with 6-4; 6-1 scores.
Sentenac was defeated by Cal's No. 5 seeded Maria Smith in 6-1, 6-4 set scores; while Yamada faced Jorgenson one-on-one and endured a 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 loss.
Although UCSB's singles play didn't balance out its solid stretch within doubles, the Gauchos are optimistic about their upside for the weekend.
"We had four losses today, and I think [they're] losses that we could have won," Thibodeau said. "We just need to focus on our game and our goals to get better. But also to be a little bit more competitive when we have our chances. We're ready to learn from [day one] and do better tomorrow. The goal is to [play] a lot of matches and get more experience. For a couple of them, it was their first college match ever. The focus is to take it one day at a time."
The SMC Fall Invitational will resume play through Sunday, Oct. 8. As the last Gaucho standing, Lev Ari will continue playing in the 'Singles A' field at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7. Volodko and Sentenac will be back in 'Doubles A' action at 8:30 a.m. that same day. Lev Ari and Yamada's next opponent is to be determined following the Consolation semifinal round.