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For North Dakota State, youth and opportunity go hand in hand

2016 North Dakota State University 1 769x349 

By Ashley Marshall

The University of Minnesota may have been the dominant powerhouse in the USTA Northern Section for much of the past decade, but don’t overlook North Dakota State University when the 2016 Tennis On Campus National Championship begins this week.

Based in Fargo, N.D., the Buffaloes are appearing at Nationals for the 16th time in the 17-year history of the coed tournament. No team from the Northern Section has won the annual competition since it was first hosted in 2000, but NDSU captain Dan Gunderson thinks his team might just have the talent to change that.

With the youngest team at the tournament – NDSU is traveling with four freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and one grad student – Gunderson believes the Buffaloes can contend not just this year, but for the foreseeable future. The four freshmen are the most of any of the 64 schools competing this week in Cary, N.C.

“We’ve gone to Nationals every year except last year, so we really wanted to get back,” he said. “Everyone from the team that went two years ago enjoyed it, but this will be a new experience for almost our whole team.

“This is a new team and all of the girls are freshmen or sophomores, so it’s great that we get to have this experience. But all of our players have played a lot of matches this year and most came here with experience at the state or high school level.”

Minnesota won its 13th consecutive Northern Section TOC Championship earlier this year, but North Dakota State University and Carleton College also placed high enough to secure bids to April’s finale at Cary Tennis Park.

Returning to Nationals shows Gunderson that his team is back on the right track, especially after some difficult times for the squad. The club team was formed in the 1980s when the varsity team disbanded but its players still wanted to compete against neighboring schools.

But ever since Gunderson started at NDSU in 2011, the tennis courts have been in various states of disrepair, and never playable. The court markings were still there as recently as 2015, but the site was always used as a parking lot. Last year, the school tore the courts up completely, removing any hope of putting them back in use.

With no courts on campus, Gunderson’s team has to travel to local high schools in the community to practice and play matches. The courts at Island Park, a short drive south of the campus, have been used this year, as have the courts at Discovery Middle School a farther five miles away.

Those are fine in the spring and summer when the weather is nice and nobody else is using them, but scheduling time to hit and play matches becomes harder once the fall arrives. Gunderson and his team often drive one hour west to Valley City, N.D., just to find an indoor court.

Despite the logistical problems the team has faced, it has continued to grow, even if the coed team is made up predominantly of male players. Around 120 people came to the team’s first practice this year, and with the influx on new talent, he expects the team to continue to succeed in the years to come.

“It’s amazing,” Gunderson said. “In the future, we are going to win a lot of matches.”