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News: UND Seniors finding way 5,000 miles away from home

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (Valley News Live) -- Tamara Merseli and Teodora Tepavac are spending a summer day helping out high school volleyball players from across the region learn the tricks of the trade.

The pair are a long way from home.

Home, is Serbia, nestled in the heart of Europe, over 5,000 miles away from their new home in Grand Forks.

“I'll be honest. I went and looked at the Junior College All-American List and just started contacting as many as I could,” UND Head Coach Mark Pryor said. “Those two didn't even know each other."

It's true. Though they are both Serbian, their path to Grand Forks was different.

In Serbia college volleyball doesn't exist. So if the two wanted to keep playing without having to turn pro, heading to the United States was the best option.

Both went to junior college before coming to UND. Merseli came from a small school in Southern Iowa.

"I got recruited by Indian Hills CC, that was my first two years and everything after that was kind of just going by,” Merseli said. “So I ended up talking to Mark. Mark recruited me to come here. So I decided to come here."

Tepavac, who goes by Teo because she says it’s easier to say, is from an even smaller school in Northern Wyoming.

“I went there for two years. In my sophomore year after season I wanted to find a university that I could continue my degree and keep playing volleyball and that's how I ended up coming to North Dakota," Tepavac said.

Neither of the two had been to the United States before coming over to play college volleyball.

Despite not knowing many people when they got to UND's campus, the pair quickly became friends.

"When she came, we became roommates and now we are still living together," Tepavac said.

“It's really amazing that you can talk to somebody that's kind of same culture and same experience as you and you can share your feelings with it," Merseli said.

The two speak Serbian when they are alone with each other but they prefer to speak in English around their teammates as a courtesy.

Both Merseli and Tepavac don't get back home to Serbia very often. They usually take some time during the summer to endure the 17 hour flight.

“That is definitely a great thing having Tamara with me just because I never like to fly alone," Tepavac said.

Merseli's family only gets a chance to watch her play volleyball thanks to internet web streams.

Both have excelled at volleyball, and both are on track to graduate this year with a bachelors degree.

"They've got a chance to get the experience but then they're going to be set up for the rest of their lives a little better and if we can do that as a coaching staff that's important to me," Pryor said.

UND is coming off a big sky conference championship and their first ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance.

The Fighting Hawks begin play for the 2017 season on August 25th. 

Original article posted here - http://www.valleynewslive.com/content/sports/From-Serbia-to-Grand-Forks-UND-Seniors-finding-way-5000-miles-away-from-home-435728393.html

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