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Rice coaches demonstrate athletic power

By Dan Elledge     4/19/12 7:00pm

With Rice University's esteemed academic tradition, when you think of award winners you think of Nobel Prize winners, award-winning researchers and top scholars. As a student or alumnus, you never expect to hear much about above and beyond athletic performance. It is Rice's academics on which people focus, not athletics. However, over the past two months, Owls fans, whether young children or elderly alumni, might have just witnessed something that they might never see again in their lifetimes.

Last Friday, Men's Tennis Head Coach Ronnie Smarr was notified that he would be inducted to the Men's Tennis College Hall of Fame on May 23 in Athens, Ga. Smarr has the most wins in Division I history with 871, having coached for more than 40 seasons. Players and coaches had nothing but good things to say about Smarr. Assistant Coach and future Head Coach Efe Ustundag said that he admired the way Smarr has carried himself throughout the years and said that he was one of the most highly touted coaches in the business. He is not just a great coach, but also a good person.

"He is probably the most organized, most respected coach," Ustundag said. "Somebody who treats every one of his players like one of his own children. He is very honest and he has a lot of great human characteristics."

Senior Michael Nuesslein said that he has been honored to play for Smarr the past few seasons and mentioned that he enjoyed both the serious and funny sides of Smarr.

"He is just one of the coolest coaches I have ever had," Nuesslein said. "He can joke in many situations, but he also knows when to be serious, and he is a coach whom you respect. You know when you have to be quiet and listen to whatever he says."

What is amazing is the fact that Smarr is the second Rice coach in two months who has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Baseball Head Coach Wayne Graham found out that he was going to be inducted into the Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame in early March, and Smarr followed him a little over a month later. Getting into the Hall of Fame is no piece of cake; it takes years of hard work and dedication, followed by continued and consistent success. Inductions just do not happen every other day (like this year). The fact that not one, but two coaches have made the Hall of Fame in a span of six weeks is mind-boggling.

This did not happen at an athletic powerhouse like the University of Southern California, Ohio State University or the University of Florida. It happened at Rice, and it goes to show that we, too, have esteemed athletic traditions and various successful teams and programs. We not only have academic prowess, but also have athletic strength.

Look at all the success the Owls have had in the past several years: the baseball team won the National Championship in 2003, the football team won the Texas Bowl in 2009, men's tennis won the conference championship in 2010, the women's swimming team won the conference championship in 2011, and Becky Wade set both 5,000 and 10,000-meter records and qualified for the Olympic Trials last week. These accomplishments are not just in baseball or tennis but rather in various sports, men's and women's. With the second-smallest student body in Division I and a strict academic policy, it is impressive that the Owls continue with these high standards and impressive records and marks.

As great as it is to hear about the academic endeavors of Rice alumni, it is just as good to hear about how Rice athletes continue to exceed expectations. Congrats to both Graham and Smarr, as they both deserve induction into their respective Halls of Fame for the great work they have done throughout their illustrious careers. Who knows, maybe we will see more Rice coaches and players go into the Hall of Fame sooner than we think.

Daniel Elledge is a sophomore at Sid Richardson andThresher sports editor.

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