College Tennis: 'Eaters display unity

UCI women's and men's tennis teams' bond helps both pocket Big West regular-season titles.

April 25, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

In a sport laced with head cases, narcissists and finger-pointers, a little altruism can be more difficult to find than a scholarship.

So the stories behind regular-season Big West Conference titles for the UC Irvine women's and men's teams this spring are as refreshing as a properly chilled elixir of electrolytes.

Anteaters women's coach Mike Edles said goodbye to productive seniors Courtney Byron, Hannah Holladay and Stephanie Hammel last season only to field a roster that included seven underclassmen and one senior.


UCI men's coach Trevor Kronemann bid adieu to All-Big West Conference seniors Sam Gould and Fabian Matthews, and was left with no seniors to welcome in a windfall recruiting class of six freshmen he dubbed the SoCal Six.

But the UCI women have flourished, posting a 20-3 record that includes an 18-match winning streak and a perfect Big West record heading into the conference tournament, in which it debuts Friday at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The UCI men held strong through the hazing ritual that Kronemann annually provides by stacking his nonconference schedule, to salvage six wins in their last seven matches after a 3-15 start.

Both teams claimed Big West regular-season titles, though the men shared theirs with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And both are seeded No. 1 in the conference tournament, the winner of which earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

A third trip to the NCAA Tournament in Edles' 17 seasons is imminent, he said, as his team's pristine record and No. 31 ranking are sure to meet the most demanding standard for at-large consideration, should it fail to collect the automatic berth. The Anteaters' No. 23 ranking earlier this season is the best in the program's history as it aims to produce the school's first NCAA Tournament triumph.

And the reason for this year's success has an underlying theme that is creating more buzz around the women's program than any barrage of passing shots could.

"It's always easy to find good tennis players," said Edles, a former UCI All-American on the 1977 NCAA Division II championship team. "But it's hard to find good tennis players that are team players."

Edles said his group, led by senior No. 1 singles standout Kristina Smith and supplemented by overachieving freshmen Sarah Gong and Sarah Stadfelt, has embraced the art of alliance as few tennis squads can.

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