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MEN'S TENNIS: UND doesn't look far to fill its roster

It doesn't take long to figure out that the UND men's tennis team is not normal. Just take a gander at the Big Sky Conference rosters. Ecuador. Belarus. Estonia. South Africa. Poland. Australia. Israel. Turkey. Brazil. India. Scotland. France. De...

UND's Connor Oberle hits a shot near the net
UND's Connor Oberle hits a shot near the net against SDSU during a recent match. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

It doesn't take long to figure out that the UND men's tennis team is not normal.

Just take a gander at the Big Sky Conference rosters.

Ecuador. Belarus. Estonia. South Africa. Poland. Australia. Israel. Turkey. Brazil. India. Scotland. France. Denmark. New Zealand. Germany. Mexico. England. Spain.

Then, look at UND's roster.

North Dakota. North Dakota. North Dakota. North Dakota. North Dakota. Minnesota. Minnesota. Minnesota.

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Head coach Tom Wynne didn't look too far when building a men's tennis program that made its return as a varsity sport at UND this year after being cut in 1990.

Wynne grabbed five North Dakotans who were already on the UND campus -- Grand Forks' Joseph Lee and Jared Vigen, Fargo's Ryan McGuigan, Minot's Josh Oothoudt and Bismarck's Grant Bakke. Oothoudt and Bakke were both two-time state singles champions.

He then added three freshmen from Minnesota -- Connor Oberle and Will Biernat of the Twin Cities and David Bergstrom of Grand Marais.

"I knew I wasn't going to be able to attract kids from that far away initially and I didn't have the funding for it either," Wynne said. "I was hoping that the kids I got would be able to compete. I think they've done pretty well. We've been out-gunned a couple of times, but nobody has beat us without working."

Nearly half of all Big Sky rosters -- 44 percent -- are made up of foreign players. The list spans 20 countries and six continents.

UND and first-year program Southern Utah are the only programs in the Big Sky without a foreign player.

"For me, personally, I think it's kind of exciting," said McGuigan, the team captain. "It's a unique opportunity to play against some of these guys and it's a little added incentive. You know that these schools have invested money to recruit these guys and give them scholarships. For us local players, to beat them, it's a little more motivation and pride."

Despite the fact that UND doesn't offer any scholarships for men's tennis -- and the fact that five of the team's top six players are guys who were already attending UND when the program started -- the squad has showed signs that it can compete at the Division I level.

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It has wins over Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud State and Northern Arizona this season. With a win over winless Southern Utah on Sunday (9 a.m., Choice Health and Fitness), UND has a shot to finish in eighth place in the Big Sky.

"We didn't qualify for the (Big Sky) postseason, which was one of our goals," McGuigan said. "When you look at our record, it was not what we envisioned when we began this season. From that aspect, it's been a disappointment. But at the same time, I know we've progressed throughout the season. We've gotten closer and closer to other teams. By no means are we in a position where we don't belong. We're definitely in there with the other teams. There's not a big difference in the level of play."

UND hopes to take another step forward next season as it doesn't graduate any seniors. And it will once again do it with local players.

"I never expected to be teammates one day with all my 'rivals' from high school," McGuigan said with a laugh. "But it has been a lot of fun. They are great guys. It's been fun to practice and travel and play meets with them. It's been a good time."

Wynne says you can expect local players to continue being part of the roster as the program builds.

"I'm hoping that UND tennis will not only improve, but also improve the quality of tennis in the state itself," he said. "I like it when a North Dakota kid has at least an option of playing tennis around here.

"I've been pleased with the boys. We took a bunch of local kids and the things I monitor are their effort on the court, their effort in the classroom and their community service. They've exceeded my expectations. The wins will come. We'll continue to get better and improve. And the day will come when we win the Big Sky."

Call Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1129; or send e-mail to bschlossman@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: TENNISUND SPORTS
Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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