Without a doubt, Head Coach Steve Clark of the UC Irvine Men’s Tennis team likes the F-word. In fact, he uses the word constantly at practice and on the court with his players.
Yes, that F-word is FOCUS.
F-Fundamentals. ‘The guys must be disciplined to work on fundamentals, work on weaknesses and capitalize on strengths.’
Their year-round training regimen forces the players to concentrate on the fundamentals of the game while only having Christmas for a break.
O-Opportunity. ‘We have one of the toughest schedules in the country. There’s only a few teams [on our schedule] that aren’t nationally-ranked. We have the opportunities and we will win because we have a lot of talented guys.’
C-Conditioning. ‘The guys have to be in shape. You can have all the chances you want, but if you [digress], it’s over. You have to be in good shape.’
U-Unity. ‘We have a pretty good mix of players,’ Clark said. The team is decorated with an international mixture of players consisting of freshman Mustafa Ulukan from Turkey, junior Ryusuke Kashiwabara from Japan and senior Renouk Wijimanne from Sri Lanka.
S-Success. ‘How do we define success? Success is in the classroom, socially and how these guys represent the community and take care of business on the [court]. Bottom line is we got to take care of business on our side of the court, and play as well and disciplined as we can be. Then everything else takes care of itself.’
The Anteaters face a tough schedule competing against nationally-ranked teams.
Although the Anteaters began the season with a loss against seventh-ranked UCLA, the loss was easily forgotten. From this defeat, the Anteaters prepare for their next opponent. ‘We don’t worry about the opponent so much. We just keep on improving and move on to the next match.’
The loss did not and will not set them back. ‘I expect to get these boys to nationals as a team. We look forward to every match. Every match we play is pretty tough; there’s only a few [teams] that aren’t ranked.’
The doubles dynamic duo of senior Jon Endrikat and Brian Morton are ranked sixth in the nation. The Endrikat-Morton ranking is the highest for UCI doubles since Trevor Kronemann and Shige Kanroji were ranked number one in 1989.
‘Jon and I would like to go undefeated. We lost one match but I think, for the rest of the season, that’s the goal,’ Morton said.
This season, Endrikat and Morton begin fresh with their high ranking despite finishing last season unranked.
‘Last year we started out 11th and ended up with some bad losses. Last year left us wanting more. I think this year we’re really going to capitalize on our last opportunities,’ Endrikat said.
‘We have a pretty good team. I’d like to see us crack top 40, which we’ve never done before. Since we haven’t won the Big West Championship, that would be the number one goal,’ Endrikat said.
‘As a team, we could definitely be winning. We have a lot of tough matches this year but I think we’ll do really well this season,’ Morton said. ‘Our team gets along really well this year. We’ve had some problems in the past but we took care of it. It’s been a lot of fun. And we have our Monday night sushi dinners.’
‘Everyone has to pull their weight. It’s a team effort,’ Clark said.
The Anteaters assure an exciting and intense season. Support from the UCI community would contribute to the team as well.
‘You’re going to see some of the best college players. Not only that, but some of these players are going to be on the pro tour. These are some of the best players in the world playing in college. It’s always good energy when you watch,’ Clark said.
‘There’s always a lot of fire from the players. It gets pretty emotional on the court at times. You’ll always see something spectacular [at the matches]. There’s always some great play that’s amazing,’ Endrikat said.
With the team mostly comprised of juniors and seniors, they have matured together, learned from each other and understand what they have to do.
‘It’s an unspoken expectation that they should say to themselves, ‘Hey, we’re seniors. Let’s do this,” Clark said.
‘The main thing is to focus and work hard daily. When you focus on things you need to work on and play big matches, you get your opportunity to make yourself known,’ Clark said.
The team is seeded 72nd with the Endrikat-Morton duo leading the pack with their sixth seed in doubles as they face Northern Arizona on Feb. 14.
Filed Under: Sports