UCSB, which recently broke ground on its new $5.25 million Arnhold Tennis Center, has added another building block to its rising athletic program.
The university announced that Gianluca Brunkow has signed a National Letter of Intent to play tennis for the Gauchos next year.
He is only the second Gaucho recruit ever to be rated “Blue Chip” by the Tennis Recruiting Network.
“Gianluca is a player on the rise with an aggressive game style that will translate from junior tennis to college competition very well,” UCSB coach Marty Davis said. “We’re truly excited and proud to have one of the top California prospects select our program and university.”
Brunkow, who attends Ojai’s Laurel Springs School, was ranked No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in the 18-and-under division of the USTA’s Southern California Sectional rankings. He’s ranked 50th in the national combined rating.
He opted to sign late in the recruiting process, which had been muddied by NCAA waivers that were approved during the COVID-19 pandemic which allow this year’s collegiate seniors to return next year.
He wound up picking the school that recruited him first, noting that UCSB associate head coach Blake Muller had begun scouting him early in his USTA junior career.
“I felt like Blake was one of the first coaches to really believe in me,” Brunkow told Rhiannon Potkey of the Tennis Recruiting Network. “It was nice to have a coach say they want you first and are very interested.
“He said he liked my game and liked me as a person and thought I had a lot of potential and was going to be a great player. He saw a lot of ability for me to keep improving throughout college.”
Brunkow registered on the recruiters’ radar while compiling sectional rankings of No. 2 in singles and No. 1 in doubles in the 16-and-under division. He won the USTA SoCal Doubles championship and was a finalist at the USTA 16-and-under National Clay Court Doubles. He was also a finalist in the boys 16 singles at the Ojai Invitational.
“What stood out most to us is his genuine passion for the game and his all-around game style, which we believe will translate great to the college level and allow him to step in and play in both our singles and doubles lineups immediately,” Muller said. “More importantly, he is a great young man who we are thrilled to have joining the Gaucho family.”
Brunkow has been playing tennis since age 3. He’s entered father-son tournaments with his dad, Toluca Lake Tennis and Fitness Club director Ben Brunkow, and grandfather-grandson events with grandpa Tom Brunkow.
“My dad taught me to play at a young age, but never pressured me to play and he has never told me I had to do this or else,” Brunkow said. “That is a big part of the reason I like it so much, because even though my whole family plays, it still feels like it’s kind of my own thing and what I want to do.”
He began to homeschool at age 10 when he decided to take the sport seriously.
“I really started to focus on tournaments and tennis and really decided this is what I want to do,” he said. “I knew I wanted to try and play in college and even hope to play in the pros as well.”
Christian Straka, his private coach at Toluca Lake, described Brunkow as “one of the most sincere and good human beings I have ever met.”
“He has never shied away from anything I have ever said,” Straka said. “It’s never been, ‘I don’t want to do this’ or ‘This is not for me.’ Whatever somebody suggests, it’s always something he took in with open arms once he understood why.”
Brunkow was recruited by several major schools but decided to stick with the one that pursued him first.
“It was definitely a big challenge because I waited pretty late to commit and some of the schools didn’t know what to expect for my year with players coming back,” he said. “They were trying to figure out the roster and scholarships available.
“So towards the end of the process there was a lot of uncertainty with some schools. But UCSB always had me as a priority, so I didn’t have to worry about any crazy roster changes or losing scholarship money.”
His relationship with the Gaucho coaches had a major impact in his decision.
“I just really liked the vibe of the school and I got along really well with coach Blake and coach Marty,” Brunkow said. “It was a top tennis program in SoCal, which is exactly what I was looking for. It seemed like a perfect place for me.”