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By Paul Lonardo
Tennis is one of the most popular sports in the world, ranked fourth, and in the U.S. the number of people enjoying the game is growing. The latest research shows that overall tennis participation in the U.S. rose 1% to 17.9 million players, according to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA).
These numbers are not surprising to Ron Gendron, who has been the men’s tennis coach at Bryant University since 2006 and has helped build a program that has achieved great success over the years. The Bulldogs have become a powerhouse in the sport, and not enough people are aware of what is being accomplished by Gendron, the players and the University.
Gendron has players from all over the world on his team. His number 2 this year is from Beijing, his number 3 is from Texas, his number 4 is from Argentina/Florida, his number 5 is from Florida, his number 6 is a Dane, and his number 1 is senior Matt Kuhar, of Smithfield. Matt was a 2014 graduate of Smithfield High School, where he posted a phenomenal 62-1 record during his first three seasons as a Sentinel, capturing two Rhode Island Singles Championships and helping his team earn a Division I title in 2013.
“Out of three hundred schools, we’re a top 100 team in the country,” Gendron says with pride, “so I’m not going to draw many local players to compete at the level, but we do have local players on the team, and we’ve always carried local players.”
Gendron recruits worldwide, and through the academic packages Bryant has to offer, together with some scholarship money, it continues to entice quality players, and as a result he has seen the growth of a tennis program that can compete with some of the bigger name schools. Gendron also credits a highly competitive schedule, which includes matchups against top 20 programs, schools such as Texas Tech, Tulsa and Dartmouth, with whom they opened this season.
“It’s given me an edge over my competition in the NEC because we’re playing a much more challenging schedule. It’s also given me a recruiting tool that I might not otherwise have had, because you can’t attract top players if you’re not giving them an opportunity to compete against other top players.”
Smithfield’s Matt Kuhar has been ranked nationally in singles and doubles this year, and that has happened in large part because of the schedule that has been afforded him at Bryant.
Gendron handled the transition from Division 2 to Division 1. His first year in the NE10 was his only year in D2, and they won the conference that year, earning a national ranking, the first in Bryant’s history. He has led the Bulldogs to five-straight NEC Championships and five-straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Along the way, Gendron has been named the NEC Coach of the Year six-straight years, which is a league record. Gendron sees even greater things ahead for the program and has set what he believes are attainable goals.
“We’d really like to achieve a national ranking in the fifties” he says. “That way we can get out of that one-four slot in the NCAA Tournament. We’d like to get out of that top sixteen bracket and go to a 2-3 matchup, so that we have a better chance of winning a round in the NCAA Tournament.”
Gendron recognizes that a goal like this takes a concerted effort on not just his part and that of his coaching staff and his players, but on the University. Bill Smith, Bryant’s Director of Athletics, is someone that the men’s tennis coach acknowledges a major reason for the success the program has enjoyed over the last twelve years.
Gendron is a local product himself, having played his high school tennis at LaSalle Academy and then at Providence College. He has also coached at Rally Point Racquet Club in Greenville and Fore Court in Cumberland. He also owns and operates a local business, Greenville Ready Mix on Cedar Swamp Road.
You know Gendron and the Bulldogs will be looking to make it six straight NEC championships this year and making a good showing in the NCAA championships in May. They are clearly a team to watch, and we as Rhode Islanders and residents of Smithfield are fortunate that we have them in our own backyard. If you’re a fan of the sport and like to see great tennis, or if you just want to support a local university and with local athletes like Matt Kuhar, this is the perfect time.