SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Northeast Conference Player of the Year Matt Kuhar (Smithfield, R.I.) and sophomore classmate Michael Plutt (Weston, Fla.) highlighted a strong showing by the Bryant University men's tennis team in the NCAA First Round, taking sets at No. 1 and No. 5 singles despite a 4-0 loss to No. 14 Oklahoma Friday afternoon in Norman, Okla.
The match marked the fourth-straight NCAA appearance for the Bulldogs (12-14), who have become the most dominant team in the Northeast Conference under five-time NEC Coach of the Year Ron Gendron. Bryant won its fourth-straight NEC crown in April to earn its 2017 NCAA tournament bid.
"Today was a fitting end to a solid season," said Gendron. "To split sets at No. 1 and No. 5 singles against the No. 14 team in the country is a big deal for an NEC team."
At No. 1 singles, Kuhar continued to impress as he has all season, earning a 6-0 win in the opening set against No. 32 Andrew Harris. Harris would return the favor in the second set, 6-3, before the flight went unfinished.
At No. 5 singles, Plutt rebounded from a 6-1 loss in the opening set against Adrian Oetzbach, evening the score with a 6-3 victory in set two. The pair would not get the opportunity to finish their draw before the match went final.
The Sooners (16-10) captured the doubles point with wins at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. The Oklahoma pair of Oetzbach and Jochen Bertsch took down senior John Templeman (Midland, Mich.) and junior Nick Lamart (Raleigh, N.C.), 6-0, at three before the No. 66 duo in the country of Florin Bragusi and Alex Ghilea solidified the point for the Sooners with a 6-2 win over sophomores Artur Jakubowski (Dallas, Texas) and Plutt at two. All-NEC First Team duo of Kuhar and Luke Lorenz (Colorado Springs, Colo.) battled at the top doubles position, trailing the 15th-ranked duo of Harris and Spencer Papa, 5-2, before the point was clinched.
Arnaud Restifo pushed the host's lead to two after defeating senior Oliver Welsh (San Diego, Calif.), 6-2, 6-2, at No. 6 singles, while Ghilea – ranked No. 47 in singles play – collected the Sooners' third point with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Lorenz in the No. 2 flight. Bragusi, ranked No. 113 in singles action, solidified the Sooners' 4-0 victory with a 6-1, 6-4 decision over Jakubowski at No. 3 singles to clinch the match.
The strong showing in NCAA play capped off an impressive season for the Black and Gold, who went undefeated in Northeast Conference action while continuing to challenge nationally ranked competition in its non-league slate. The Bulldogs saw all-conference recognitions at all six singles flights and all three doubles pairings and are a driving force behind the NEC's rise in the national conversation.
"With almost 300 tennis programs in Division I, for a small New England school like Bryant to compete at this level is amazing," said Gendron.
The Bulldogs return 14 players from its 2016-17 roster next season, including all of its all-conference selections.