Russ Sluchinski, U of A Pandas Tennis Coach, joins us on the program to discuss how tennis is on its way to being included under the CIS umbrella as a university sport. Sluchinski has over 25 years of university tennis experience, including stints coaching the universiade national teams. Sluchinski is not only a coach but is also involved in the decision-making committee that determines how to build university tennis across Canada. 25 years of experience, you better believe there are some good stories in there! Click on the media player below to catch them all.
Ryan started by asking Russ how and when the U of A tennis program began. “The University of Alberta tennis team participated as a club team for about 13 years starting in 1986,” said Sluchinski. “And then in 1999, the U of A joined the NAIA, a US league, and that same year, the team was designated with varsity status. So we played in the NAIA for about 10 years…and just this year, we actually dropped out of the NAIA to support a new Canadian university and college league being pushed by Tennis Canada.”
Ryan asked how long Russ has been involved with the program and what his current role is. “I’ve been involved since 1986 in some capacity or another,” said Sluchinski, “I started coaching both the Bears and the Pandas in 1995.” “So I coached the Bears until 2002 and now we brought on a new coach for the Bears and I focus just on the Pandas.”
Ryan asked what the biggest accomplishment of the program has been so far. “There’s a number of accomplishments,” said Sluchinski, “first of all, just lasting as long as we have considering that tennis in Canada isn’t…that popular at the university level.” “Just taking the program to where we’ve taken it. To achieve varsity status, to get to a point where we’re offering scholarships, to be able to provide coaches for the mens and womens program, and come up with annual fundraising initiatives…that provide the athletes with good, competitive opportunities. I think they’re all equally as important.” “Also, building the Saville Sports Centre and having some impact on building a new facility because that’s key for our program as well. To have our own facility to host events and to train in.”
Ryan asked what types of hurdles the program had to overcome in the beginning. “For athletic departments to be able to stretch their dollar and provide extra funding for new programs like tenns is tough,” said Sluchinski. “So right of the bat it was clear we were going to have to raise our own funds if we were going to have a program and so that was definitely a challenge.”
Ryan asked Russ to update the listeners on the current state of tennis at the university level. “In western Canada right now we have 7 schools that have tennis programs of some extent,” said Sluchinski. “When you look at hockey and football, two of our more historical sports, hockey…has 7 schools and football has 6.” “If we just hold where we’re at, that’s not bad. In terms of the east, they have a few more schools. Probably closer to 12 to 16 schools between Ontario and Quebec.” “We haven’t been able to establish any schools in the Atlantic provinces yet but we’re working on that.”