Matt Kuhar of Smithfield lost only one match in high school and compiled a stellar record in college.
“The perfect student-athlete.”
How about that for high praise?
The recipient of Bryant University tennis coach Ron Gendron’s compliment is Matt Kuhar, one of the finest tennis players to come out of Rhode Island and the best to swing a racquet for Bryant.
Kuhar won three state championships and lost only one match for Smithfield High School, the 2012 boys singles final, when he was a sophomore. In four seasons at Bryant he won 87 singles matches — he lost 31 — and three consecutive Northeast Conference Player of the Year Awards. This year he compiled a 24-8 record in singles and achieved an Intercollegiate Tennis Association national ranking of 77, his career best.
“He’s a great kid and a great leader. It’s phenomenal that one of the best players in Bryant history is from Smithfield, Rhode Island,” Gendron told me recently.
Kuhar will participate in Bryant’s graduate school commencement exercises on Friday and complete requirements for his MBA in August. Next week, he and his partner, sophomore Wilson Dong, will compete in the NCAA Doubles Tournament in Orlando. Kuhar’s singles career ended earlier this month when 16th-ranked Columbia beat Bryant, 4-0, in the first round of the NCAA team event at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. Kuhar lost to No. 37 VIctor Pham, 6-0, 6-0.
Kuhar grew up just a few miles from the Bryant’s Smithfield campus. In four years at Smithfield he lost only Jared Donaldson, who even as a young teen at the time was training to be a pro. He defeated Kuhar before a crowd of several hundred at Slater Park in Pawtucket.
At Bryant, Kuhar has been sensational. He was 58-17 at No. 1 and 18-1 against NEC rivals. He has been All-NEC four times in singles and three times in doubles. He was the NEC rookie of the year in 2015 and won 13 weekly honors during his career.
“I didn’t expect all this. I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted to play and have fun,” he said during an interview before the NCAA team tournament. “You don’t realize how fast it’s going to go until it’s almost over. It really does fly by.”
Kuhar could have played Ivy League tennis — Harvard and Brown were interested — but he received a full scholarship to Bryant as the highest-ranking member of his class to accept Bryant’s admission offer. Every year Bryant offers a full ride to Smithfield High’s top student.
“The deal Bryant gave me was a huge part,” he said of his choice. “I wanted to stay close to home. That was very important to me. When I saw the strength of schedule, I saw I would be playing all the schools’ best kids.”
Kuhar’s game has matured since he was an undersized high school baseliner with solid ground strokes.
“He’s an aggressive baseline player who hits cleanly down the line. He has developed an all-court game. He can slice, and his serve has definitely improved,” Gendron said.
“My game is definitely a lot different. I’m bigger and stronger. When I was a freshman, I think I weighed 125 pounds. I’ve gained 30 or 35 pounds. I’m definitely faster, and my serve is bigger,” Kuhar said.
Fractured vertebrae in his lower back sidelined Kuhar in 2016, which is why he is able to play this year, his fifth on the team, while working on his graduate degree in business. He majored in finance and psychology as an undergraduate. He has performed as well in the classroom as he has on the tennis court and as a result is the Northeast Conference’s scholar-athlete of the year for tennis.
Kuhar plans to put his potential business career on hold so he can play professional tennis. He will start in the low minor leagues of tennis, the International Tennis Federation’s Transition Tour, and if he wins enough, he will graduate to the ATP Challenger Circuit. For now he plans to play mostly in the United States.
“I’d like to play two or three years. It all depends how I do. If it doesn’t work out, I have a nice master’s degree to fall back on,” he said.
Such are the rewards for the perfect student-athlete.