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Using scholarships for the first time, UND tennis finds talent overseas

Tom Wynne acknowledges that UND's tennis rosters will look different in the future.

"We're not that team anymore where if you're a local kid that made it to the high school tournament, you're going to get a chance to play," the UND tennis coach said. "Now, it's 'what's your national ranking?' It's changing really quickly."

Using scholarships to recruit for the first time, the men's tennis team announced a three-man signing class for next season with players hailing from across the ocean—Great Britain, Serbia and Croatia.

The class is highlighted by Nejc Sitar of Croatia.

He is a 13 on the Universal Tennis Rankings system, which ranks every competitive tennis player in the world. The world's highest-ranked player is Rafael Nadal, who is a 16.3.

Sitar has the highest UTR of any player ever recruited to UND.

"People probably won't understand the UTR, but that's probably approaching like a five-star recruit," Wynne said. "As far as a blue-chip player, he's in that category. He's someone who has high expectations. He seems like a nice kid, too.

"Our goal is to get a kid to play here who we can watch on TV playing at the next level. It will happen someday."

Wynne's connections helped land Sitar.

UND heard about him from Penn coach Dave Geatz, a Grand Forks native and Red River graduate. Geatz didn't know if Sitar could qualify for the Ivy League, but told Wynne that, "he looks like a player."

Wynne and assistant coach Kyle Anderson contacted Sitar, whose brother, Rok, played at Montana State. Rok vouched for UND's program and the facilities at Choice Health and Fitness.

"We had a full scholarship to offer him," Wynne said. "Once he heard his brother said we have a good program, a nice facility, we told him we're on the upswing—and that's what's happening."

This was the first year that the men's tennis program had scholarships since it returned as a varsity sport in 2012. But the scholarships weren't added until last summer, when most players had already signed. This year's class is the first that UND recruited with scholarships in hand. The Fighting Hawks have 3.75 scholarships out of the allowable 4.5.

That was the major factor in landing someone of Sitar's ability level. Now, the coaches will have to decide how to use him next season.

"He's going to be a freshman, so there will be some growing pains," Wynne said. "But it's up to us to figure out where to play him. Do we throw him into the fire at the top or bring him along slowly?

"Lukas Buth had a .500 season at No. 1 last year. He's a really quality player. We could always go that route, too."

The women's team is up from 4.5 to 7.5 scholarships out of the allowable eight.

The women also announced a pair of signees Wednesday—Kaede Amano of Japan and Alexandra Ochotorena of Albuquerque, N.M.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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