Ground was broken recently for UCSB’s new Arnhold Tennis Center, but the seeds were sown for the facility nearly 30 months ago.
The idea for a first-rate tennis stadium was brainstormed during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament when the Gauchos lost a hard-fought, 4-1 match to No. 10 USC at the Trojans’ Marks Tennis Stadium.
“It was a really, really good match, and John Arnhold was in attendance,” recalled longtime UCSB coach Marty Davis. “It was shortly after that match that he said out loud, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if UCSB could have a tennis facility like that?’”
And then Arnhold and his wife Jody put $5.25 million where their mouths were with one of the largest donations ever made to UCSB athletics. The final red tape was hurdled this summer and shovel was put to ground two weeks ago.
“There are so many crazy things going on right now (with the COVID-19 pandemic), something like this is very positive and exciting, and we’re glad we’re underway,” director of athletics John McCutcheon said. “The timetable for construction is eight months, although you never know about delays if we get a lot of unexpected rain.”
He has a good view of the project from his second-floor office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building. It is being constructed on the site of the old Rob Gym Courts, located in the middle of an athletic complex that includes The Thunderdome, Campus Pool, Robertson Gym, Pauley Track, the lacrosse and softball stadiums, Caesar Uyesaka Baseball Stadium, and Harder Soccer Stadium.
“It’s a nice benefit to have that entire area coming together,” McCutcheon said. “We have another project coming up at the Thunderdome with a basketball practice facility (with new floor on the mezzanine level) and the second phase of chairback seating.”
The tennis project will provide six new courts, two refurbished courts, seating for about 300, and an 1,860 square-foot team building which will include locker rooms, storage, and a team lounge.
“We can run tournaments from the team room and it’s a place where the kids can study before and after practice,” Davis said. “Hopefully it will become a community center for tennis.
“The facility is going to be super-visible — right off the main bike path, rather than on the edge of campus (like the Rec Center Courts), and next to the Intercollegiate Athletics Building. The training room, and the strength and conditioning center, are also right there.”
The Arnholds are more than just donors to the Gauchos. John Arnhold, former chairman of the board for the International Tennis Hall of Fame, volunteers as a coach for the UCSB women’s team and serves as a trustee serves as a trustee with the UC Santa Barbara Foundation.
Their efforts are giving both the men’s and women’s tennis teams a big boost “onto the national stage,” Davis said.
“That’s where we’ve clawed ourselves into some national recognition, and this was a real hurdle for us to clear,” he said of the stadium. “And now we’ve had other alumni and donors jump in to help support the facility, as well, so we’re putting together an enhancement fund that will help us maintain the facility and add features that we couldn’t afford in this initial build.”
The timing couldn’t be better. The Gauchos return nearly all their players from last year’s coronavirus-shortened season, including Joseph Guillin, their No. 1 singles player.
“Joseph is one of the best players in the country and certainly one of the best on the West Coast,” Davis said. “He was the first Gaucho to ever win the Sectional Championships, which includes players from UCLA, USC, San Diego State and Arizona.”
Guillin is taking advantage of a special NCAA waiver and returning for a fifth season after having been named by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as the Southwest Region’s Most Improved Senior last year. His singles ranking rose to as high as No. 8 before winding up at No. 26.
“He just made the semifinals of the Southern California Open Sectionals and beat some pretty good players,” Davis pointed out.
Guillin won four matches in the event in Costa Mesa, including No. 2 seed Eduardo Nava of Wake Forest, before losing 6-1, 7-6 to USC’s Riley Smith in the semifinals. Smith was on the Trojan team that beat Guillin and the Gauchos in the 2018 NCAAs.
Also back are Victor Krustev, UCSB’s No. 2 player last year and the only Gaucho to post a singles win during the 2018 NCAA match at USC, and No. 3 player Alejandro Verdi.
“It’s probably our deepest team ever and certainly one of the strongest, from top to bottom,” Davis said. “I sure hope we get to compete.”
Although the Arnhold Center won’t be ready in time, the Gauchos are hoping the COVID-19 pandemic won’t interrupt an 18-match schedule that includes such Pac-12 powers as UCLA.
“We’re not allowed to travel out of state, but we are getting some out-of-state teams to come here,” Davis said. “Oregon is one of the teams coming to visit.
“But what we’re really focusing on now is just starting practice and getting back to school.”
Their new year for both will start on Jan. 4.