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Greatness continues for Trojans

Irvine Scene

University boys' tennis team is 105-1 over past five years and seeks third straight CIF Southern Section Division 1 title.

April 21, 2012|By Joe Haakenson, Special to the Daily Pilot

There haven't been too many boys' tennis teams that have challenged University High in the past 10 years or so. In fact, Uni coach John Kessler's biggest challenge really isn't an opposing team at all.

Considering that Trojans have a dual-match record of 105-1 over the past five years, one might think Kessler's toughest opponent is complacency.

Oh, sure, talent will overcome a lot, and Uni is always loaded with it. But Kessler's Trojans also overcome complacency, finding motivation in ways most teams can only imagine.

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"For the boys, what's keeping them motivated is the bigger picture," said Kessler, now in his 11th season at Uni.

Kessler likes to point to Santa Barbara High's 10 consecutive CIF Southern Section Division 1 championships as one of those bigger-picture goals. And while Uni is going for "just" its third straight Division 1 crown this season, the Trojans are also going for their seventh CIF title under Kessler's tutelage in 11 seasons.

Still, championships don't happen until the season is over. What about the challenge during the season, that match-by-match grind throughout the season?

Well, that's easy. With their victory over Beckman on Thursday, the Trojans have won 61 consecutive dual matches. Their last loss came in their final match of the 2009 season — the CIF championship match against Thousand Oaks. Since then, they're 61-0.

"The Streak" is well-known on the Uni campus, even if it isn't talked about much.

"We approach it one match at a time, using a lot of guys and keeping it fresh," Kessler said of his deep talent pool. "We can focus match by match, but we are aware [of the streak] — we don't want it to consume them, but we are aware of the bigger picture.

"It's the JV team, too. The JV team hasn't lost a match in seven years. The whole program is aware of it. And it is a weight, it's definitely a weight, and sometimes it's a pain in the neck. It's like, 'I know the loss is coming, so let's get the loss out of the way and let's just move on.' On the other hand, you want to preserve and protect. It's kind of a fine line what we're walking to be honest with you."

So Kessler approaches each season with the idea of making his players better, not just winning matches. It's just that when you win all the time, the measuring stick is not always so clear. How do you know if you're getting better if you were winning all the time already?

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