GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The UND men's tennis team is set to take the court for the first time since the 1989-1990 season Saturday morning against Drake in Des Moines, Iowa.
UND will begin the season with four matches on the road against nonconference teams. On March 8, the team will host its first home match in the Choice Health and Fitness Center against Big Sky Conference opponent Montana State.
The addition of men's tennis will benefit both UND and the state by becoming the only university in North Dakota to offer Division I men's tennis.
"It is really good for the state of North Dakota as in the past we have had kids that want to play tennis with good high school programs in the state, but they really had nothing to look forward to afterwards in North Dakota," Head Coach Tom Wynne said. "We now have a good option to offer for local kids throughout the state and that is really good for us."
The long absence of men's tennis will provide both challenges and opportunities for Wynne and the team. UND was picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, but the focus and competitive nature of the team may result in more wins than anticipated.
"There will be a lot of that going on (Feeling it out). I think we have a lot of kids that will get disrespected," Wynne said. "Our men's team is predicted to finish last in the conference and probably rightfully so, but I think we have a pretty good and competitive group of guys. I think they have their heads on straight and I think they will be competitive in a lot more matches than the coach's poll indicated."
Another challenge facing the team will be the learning curve that is associated with the Division I skill level and that the team has little experience at the collegiate level.
"We have a few kids that have been away from tennis so that's a problem, but they have their priorities straight. They are good in school and are a little bit older so I think that will help them," Wynne said. "I just think it will be a feeling-it-out process on the men's side. I haven't been around men's tennis in almost 20 years now so I'll be curious to see what the level has to be in order to get there. I am hoping we will be competitive even if we are losing matches."
Although the team is young, Wynne believes that the leadership and experience of several players will be beneficial to the team."We have some natural leaders on the men's side. One of the kids with a little more experience would be Ryan McGuigan," said Wynne. "He plays a lot of summer tournaments around here and was actually on our practice team last year. He is our captain and he has the proper attitude towards preparation and getting ready for matches. He will be fun to watch."
"Josh Oothoudt actually has Division I experience at Green Bay and will be another kid that will be able to step in and play for us. Oothoudt and Grant Bakke have won state high school tournaments while in high school, so that will help out," Wynne said. "Those kids probably have a little more experience, but I can honestly say we have some good depth. There is not much of a drop off from one to eight on our men's team. That is something I am hoping will bode well for us throughout the year. If our No. 1 guy went out and played our No. 8 guy on any given day and wasn't on top of his game, he could lose."
UND knows the challenges that are ahead, but the team is focused and hopes to surprise opponents with their work ethic and attitude.
"Our motto is going to be "will beats skill" because we will probably be playing kids with more skill level than us. We have a good group of hard working kids though and I think that will translate into some wins," Wynne said.