By: Alex Morando, OSU Athletics Communications Student
When Justin Kronauge, a senior on the Ohio State men’s tennis team, was selected co-captain by head coach Ty Tucker earlier this year, he didn’t ask any questions. He knew he was ready to lead this talented squad.
“I’ve really enjoyed taking over one of the leadership roles this year,” Kronauge a native of Dayton, Ohio, said. “We have a really close knit group of guys who enjoy being around one another and I’ll help them anyway I can.”
Kronauge, a 2008 ITA All-American, has been a major contributor to the team during the past three-plus seasons, climbing the Ohio State career records wins list in both singles and doubles each week. But this isn’t anything new for him; success has been part of his tennis game since an early age.
“Everyone in my family played tennis and I grew up around it,” Kronauge said. “My dad taught it and played and so did my uncle. I was excelling at tennis more than any other sport at a young age and I knew early on that if I wanted to be successful I had to focus all my attention on it.”
His father, Bob, was a three-time NCAA men’s qualifier at Cincinnati, while his uncle, Dan, was an All-American at Ball State in 1992. Kronauge wanted to do the same.
In 2005, Kronauge was the top-ranked juniors’ singles player in the country and was 11th nationally in doubles. He won the 2005 Winter Super National Championship (Boys 18s) in Scottsdale, Ariz., while also partnering with fellow future Buckeye Matt Allare to win the National Winter doubles championship. Before he became the USTA’s No. 1 ranked 18-year-old, Kronauge was No. 3 as a 16-year-old.
“I think my most memorable moment was getting to the top of the juniors’ rankings,” Kronauge said. “I was always close, but I finally had a breakthrough winning a national championship when I was 17.”
When the High School All-American joined the Buckeyes in 2006, success came instantly. For the past three seasons, Kronauge has had at least 29 singles victories, including back-to-back years with 41 wins.
“Justin is on pace to be the career leader in singles and doubles victories combined. He’s been a hard worker and he’s been a guy you can count on in all the big matches throughout his entire career,” Tucker said. “We are awfully sad we only have a couple more months with Justin on the team.”
Against 17th-ranked Texas A&M March 7, Kronauge, currently ranked 36th in the nation, claimed the 4-3 victory for the Buckeyes at No. 3 singles with a win over Alexis Klegou. After dropping the first set, Kronauge fought back to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, to give Ohio State its 12th victory of the year.
Kronauge, a unanimous 2008 and 2009 First-Team All-Big Ten selection, is currently second on the all-time career singles wins list with 134 victories. In doubles, Kronauge has 113 career wins, which is fifth all-time.
“We know he’s going to step up for us,” Tucker said. “He’s competitive and tenacious. The guy hates to lose and the tighter the moment, the more he competes. Justin is someone who has left a great mark on the program and he’s done a fantastic job as captain.”
One of the most consistent players to win in program history, fellow captain, Mike O’Connell, said Kronauge has not only been a role model for other players, but for him as well.
“Justin had big expectations coming into Ohio State as a top recruit and he has more than exceeded,” O’Connell said. “He’s been a major factor for us over the years and has been extremely impressive. It has been a privilege to be a captain with one of the most talented players in the nation.”
With seven underclassmen on the 2009-10 roster, Kronauge along with O’Connell, want to continue to pass along the successful traditions of the Buckeye tennis program.
“Mike and I have been here for a long time,” Kronauge said. “We’ve been through the battles and we know what to expect of ourselves. I know people are going to look up to me this year, like I did to the older guys when I was new to the program.”
At the halfway point in the season, Kronauge has been instrumental in Ohio State’s 20-1 overall record. The 2008 and ’09 Academic All-Big Ten recipient has also been part of 61 of the 103 consecutive home wins.
“The streak is about everyone who has played here,” Kronauge said. “It’s what Ty has developed into our program and shows how tough we are. We know how important it is to win the home matches.”
Ohio State’s leader, Kronauge expects to take his team to a fifth straight Big Ten title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament after the squad advanced to its first NCAA final last season. The determination and emotion he shows during his matches has been an important igniter to the Buckeyes’ accomplishments for the past four years.
“I wrote a letter of recommendation for him for the Big Ten Medal of Honor,” Tucker said. “Our tennis program is losing a tremendous leader and Ohio State is losing one of its best student-athletes of all-time.”
Yes, Justin, you will be missed.