The men’s tennis team at Colorado State University-Pueblo had a serious connection to Winnipeg this season.
Three of the six members of the ThunderWolves were Winnipeggers, thanks to a strange turn of events than landed Saul Shrom at the campus about two hours south of Denver.
Shrom had signed on with a school in Cleveland in 2010, and was ready to go when he got a call at the end of July saying the school had cancelled its tennis program.
"They told us the coach had left them last minute and they had no time to hire a new coach," said the Tuxedo resident, who graduated from the Gray Academy.
The coach had a different version of events, but the result was the same: Shrom was without a place to play. Even if he had decided to attend one of the local universities, he was out of luck because most of the classes were full.
He contacted every school with a tennis program he could think of, and eventually got a response from CSU-Pueblo. A few days later, he was a ThunderWolf.
"I loved it down here," he said. "They hadn’t had a Canadian on the team before me."
After Shrom enjoyed his freshman experience so much, he was eager to help recruit other Winnipegers to the team. Last year he was joined by Alex Lesiuk, a Vincent Massey grad who had spent a previous semester at St. Cloud State in Minnesota.
"He was back in Winnipeg for a year and a half itching to play tennis," Shrom said. "It worked out last minute, and he came out."
Lesiuk played the last two seasons with Shrom, and graduated last week.
And this past semester saw the addition of another Winnipeg product to the team’s roster, as Westwood Collegiate grad Shane Nicholls came to Colorado.
"It was pretty cool this year to have three guys from Winnipeg," Shrom said. "Bringing them out here made it feel like old times."
Shrom played hockey until he was 11, but decided at that point to focus completely on tennis. He saw older players from the Winnipeg Winter Club, where he practised, going on to American colleges, and dreamt of doing the same.
"My dad always told me if I picked a sport I should pick one that you can really go somewhere with," he said. "I thought there were more opportunities in tennis."
The NCAA experience has been a good one for Shrom. As opposed to Canadian university tennis, where there aren’t a lot of tournaments, the ThunderWolves are competing regularly against players from all over the world.
"I’ve probably played 20 or 30 guys from Europe," Shrom said. "And next year we won’t have a single American on our team."
The ThunderWolves had an up and down season in 2012-13, closing it out with a fifth place finish at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament.
"It was a great year," Shrom said. "Alex and I played some good doubles together, and Shane improved a ton this year."