Pace was never a problem for Trevor Kronemann as a player. The UC Irvine men's tennis coach was a four-time All-American for the Anteaters from 1987 to 1990 and he went on to play nine seasons on the ATP Tour, terrorizing opponents with a power game that, along with his linebacker-like physique, earned him the nickname "The Tank."

But when it comes to the myriad duties of managing a program, obstacles can arise quickly to slow what Kronemann still hopes can be a climb to the top for his alma mater.

UCI is coming off back-to-back Big West Conference championships and begins its season Tuesday at No. 5-ranked UCLA at 1:30 p.m.

But rather than the team he thought could generate a top-10 ranking, Kronemann's Anteaters begin the season ranked No. 42.

Chris Kearney, the Big West Player of the Year last season as a junior, turned pro, while would-be senior Steven Henderson, a second-team all-conference doubles player last season, has elected to concentrate on academics this year while preparing for graduate school, Kronemann said.

Still another would-be returner graduated early and Kronemann noted that one incoming recruit, who he said was a top-50 player among incoming freshmen, changed his mind and attended another school, despite having already signed a scholarship agreement with UCI.

Kronemann, who claimed four Big West singles titles and anchored four straight conference team title winners as a player, helped UCI, then coached by Greg Patton, reach national prominence. When he took over as coach before the 2007 season after five years as head coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he said he wanted to lead the Anteaters back onto the forefront of the national stage.

He's still working every day to do just that, but it has already taken longer than he had imagined.

"Am I satisfied with where [the program] is at? No," said Kronemann, who was the Big West Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and said he expects to battle UC Santa Barbara for this year's conference crown. "I want to win a national championship. I wanted that to happen yesterday. I want it to happen this year. Am I pleased with the process? There's always work to be done. That's the dynamic of being a coach; you never get a chance to rest. You're always into the next recruiting class and always into the next year's schedule. You're always dealing with people's emotions and understanding what you are trying to teach them. It constantly moves and there's never a dull day. We're kind of like the stock market: you're up one day, down the next. But that's what makes it exciting and that's what I love about it."

Senior Fabian Matthews, a second-team all-conference doubles honoree last season who was a first-team All-Big West singles performer as a sophomore and a freshman, is the veteran anchor this year. He is a Corona del Mar High product.

Ryan Cheung, who partnered with Matthews last season to earn second-team all-conference doubles recognition, was the Big West Freshman of the Year in 2011.

Senior Sam Gould has also earned a handful of all-conference laurels, while Kronemann identifies Mika DeCoster, Jacob Jung and Shuhei Shibahara as three freshmen who figure to make a strong impact.

"The sky's the limit," Kronemann said of the prospects for the 2012 squad. "I've tried to explain to them that they have the talent in the room. We can't worry about what's come and what's gone. Let's just look at each day as a growing experience toward Palm Springs [the conference championships].It's my job to get them prepared for those three days in the desert, which has been and will continue to be our way into the NCAAs. I look at each match as a stepping stone, or a paintbrush stroke on a canvas. We're just trying to get this picture at the end. I have that picture in my mind already."

Kronemann said next year's recruiting class was recently cited as the 14th best in the nation, generating even more optimism.

"I thought we'd have a top-10 team this year, but there were some unfortunate circumstances and that's backed off a little bit. But I want to work toward being a top-10 team, to get back to when it was Pepperdine, USC, UCLA and Irvine, back in the heyday. That's what drives me every day."

DeCoster, from Ladera Ranch, is the son of legendary motocross rider Roger DeCoster, who won five motocross world championships in the early 1970s and was elected to the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of American in 1994.

The elder DeCoster, from Belgium, had 36 victories in 500cc Grand Prix events.

The UCI men's tennis schedule includes 12 ranked opponents.

"We don't duck anybody," Kronemann said. "If we could put the top 25 teams on the schedule, that's how the schedule would look."

One date to circle is Feb. 20, when the 'Eaters play host to UCSB at 1 p.m.

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5