Anteaters want more

UC Irvine is the 2011 Big West Conference champion in men's tennis.

Has a nice ring to it.

But that's not the ring the UC Irvine men's tennis coach Trevor Kronemann longs for.

The Anteaters are piling on success after success these days. They won the conference tournament last year, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They won regular-season conference co-championships in 2008 and 2009.

This year's team has the conference player of the year in Chris Kearney and the co-freshman of the year in Ryan Cheung. Kronemann was named conference coach of the year for the second season in a row.

But it's not enough.

"I want somebody to win a national championship at UCI," Kronemann said. "Whether that's a team championship or individual championship."

Kronemann has UCI on the right track, and they'll begin their quest for a national team championship next week when the Anteaters start play in the 64-team NCAA Tournament. But Kronemann also knows national championships don't come quick and easy. They take perseverance and patience.

"As a coach, I want it now, I want it yesterday," he said. "But how you get there is by being one step better than the year before. Even if it's small steps, you try to make sure you make that one step every year. And maybe some years you take four or five steps.

"You do that, you'll eventually get there."

UCI might have a tough road ahead this year, but don't tell Kronemann. The Anteaters are 40th in the ITA national rankings, but Kronemann isn't buying it.

"I think we're a little bit better than that," He said. "We pushed UCLA to 4-3, and they're ranked 11th. Rankings don't matter to me. Our schedule speaks for itself. We were as high as 32 or 33, then we had one bad loss and fell to 63. Now we worked our way back up to 40. I believe we're better than 40."

UCI will get the chance to validate its coach as soon as Friday, when the NCAA Tournament begins at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the UCLA campus, one of the 16 regionals being played around the country.

The Anteaters will play No. 28 Mississippi, and if they win, they likely will face No. 11 UCLA. Kronemann has done his homework on Ole Miss.

"Their team is all foreign players," he said. "They have two guys who are 6-foot-5. When they win the doubles point, they're 11-1, but when they lose the doubles point, they're 0-8.

"The doubles point has been very important all year long. A lot of teams look at doubles as a necessary evil. I look at it differently. If they're going to give it to us, we'll find a way to win the other three points."

Kearney, UCI's No. 1 singles player, is teamed up with Stephen Stege to form the Anteaters' No. 1 doubles team. Kearney will be key to UCI's chances, and after the team tournament is over, Kearney will compete in the NCAA Division I individual tournament starting May 25.

Kearney is an Irvine native, went to Mater Dei High but began his collegiate career at the University of North Carolina. After some personal problems, he left North Carolina and enrolled at UCI.

"He's very important to us," Kronemann said. "It's a huge bonus when you have your No. 1 player win his singles matches 80% of the time."

Kronemann is quick to point to his entire roster for his team's season, in which it is 19-7, and 5-0 in the Big West.

"The key has been our depth," he said. "Each individual knows what his role is and what to do on a daily basis. I go back to my mom yelling at me from the stands when I was playing: 'Focus!' If you focus on commitment, it unleashes success. And we have a lot of guys on the team who are local, and we like to build from those local roots."

Cheung, like Kearney, is from Irvine. Fabian Matthews, who played at Corona del Mar High, Ryan Mayer (Yorba Linda), Shan Sondhu (Laguna Niguel) and Jon Kazarian (Rancho Palos Verdes) are local products.

Eric Gast, Sam Gould, Steven Henderson, Nick Northcott and Stege round out the roster.

Even Kronemann is a local, a graduate of UC Irvine in 1990, where he was quite a player himself. He was an All-American each of his four years at the school, and earned NCAA All-America honors in singles all four years and in doubles in 1989 when he was a NCAA finalist with partner Mike Briggs.

He played professional tennis on the Assn. of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour, ranking as high as No. 19, and participated in all the Grand Slam tournaments.

He's also the current head coach of the Newport Beach Breakers of World Team Tennis.

"In my life a lot of things have fallen in my lap," he said. "I was fortunate to play professionally for 10 years because an opportunity opened up for me. The same thing happened with coaching collegiate tennis."

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