Local UND athletes explain the pride they enjoy playing in front of friends and family and fans


David L. Dodds

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Local UND athletes explain the pride they enjoy playing in front of friends and family and fans

Paul LaDue and Luke Johnson of the University of North Dakota hockey squad never needed much of an orientation to the passionate athletic following in Grand Forks.

They've lived it their entire lives.

Both sophomores and cousins, LaDue and Johnson, are part of a family legacy when it comes to donning the Kelly green and white. Luke's dad and Paul's uncle, Steve Johnson, played at UND from 1984-88 and was a part of the school's legendary 1987 NCAA championship team. Steve also made first-team All-American and was a Hobey Baker finalist in 1988. The late Chad Johnson, an uncle to both Paul and Luke, also played at UND from 1990-93.

The cousins are Grand Forks natives who played high school hockey at Grand Forks Central and junior-level hockey for the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars of the USHL. They definitely lived up to their bloodline in their freshman year at UND. Johnson played in 42 games, netting 8 goals and 13 assists and garnering conference rookie-of-the-week honors twice.

Not to be out done, LaDue finished his freshman year with six goals and 15 assists in 41 games. His performance earned him a spot on the conference All-Rookie Team and he was named conference Rookie of the Month for February. In addition, he was named UND's Male Freshman of the Year for all sports.

LaDue, Johnson and the rest of the UND hockey team will treat their hometown fans to a game Friday night — UND Homecoming weekend — against the Bemidji State Beavers 7: 30 p.m., at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The team then will travel to Bemidji for a 7 p.m. game at the Sanford Center on Saturday.

Local talent

This year, Johnson and LaDue are playing for one of the strongest UND squads in years. And it's a team with heavy hometown and regional influence. According to Jayson Hajdu, UND Athletics sports information director, UND Hockey has three players on its roster from Grand Forks and four from North Dakota for the first time since the 2007-08 season. That year that saw Robbie Bina, Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, Aaron Walski and Jake Marto suit up for the program.

In addition to Johnson and LaDue, the 2014-15 team comprises fellow Grand Fork native Johnny Simonson (freshman) and North Dakota native, Keaton Thompson (sophomore), of Devils Lake. But the local and regional ties don't stop there. Gage Ausmus (sophomore) and Tucker Poolman (freshman), representing East Grand Forks and Minnesota Section 8AA Hockey, are on the team, as is Zane McIntire of Thief River Falls.

LaDue knows he has a special opportunity at UND, and he's seizing that opportunity.

"I have always grown up dreaming that I would one day play hockey for UND," said LaDue, a business economics major and the son of Jay and Carrie LaDue. "I hardly missed a game growing up and seeing how exciting the atmosphere is every Friday and Saturday really helped motivate me to work harder and harder. Once I got the opportunity to come here I never looked back, and it's pretty special to put that jersey on in front of my family and friends."

Johnson and LaDue have rarely played their hockey apart, from their days growing up in the Grand Forks system to Grand Forks Central High School to Lincoln, Neb. Together, they've experienced firsthand the support that local fans shower on their hometown heroes, especially at UND.

"It's definitely exciting playing in your hometown," said Johnson, the son of Steve and Nancy and an entrepreneurship major at UND. "I've been a Sioux fan my whole life, so it's pretty surreal playing here now. It's pretty cool that I get to play in front of my family and friends, too."

Waiting to shine

The passion to represent one's hometown and home school isn't confined to the ice at UND.

Jessica Fontes, a senior middle blocker on the UND volleyball team, also grew up with UND family lineage. Her father, Mat, played basketball for UND and her mother, Mary, was a cross country and track star at UND.

For Fontes, a nursing major and graduate of East Grand Forks Sacred Heart High School, those family connections have translated into a strong desire to be part of a something special at UND.

"I feel lucky to have been given an opportunity to play in my hometown just as (my parents) did," Fontes said.

UND's volleyball team is off to a strong start in 2014-15, and Fontes has been an important part of the success as a spark off the bench. Earlier this season, in a match against Eastern Washington University in which UND was struggling to put the opposition away, Fontes led with a series of kills and blocks that inspired the her squad to rise to the occasion.

After the game, Head Coach Mark Pryor sang Fontes' praises.

"She has been unbelievable teammate and team member, and when given an opportunity, she took a hold of it and played exceptionally well," the coach said. "I could not be more pleased for her."

Fontes' team faces Weber State and Idaho State this weekend in a pair of important conference away games.

Fontes didn't get her chances right away at UND. She was a star player out of high school for Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls, before transferring to UND for her junior year. She was used sparingly her first year at UND. Before she entered her break-out game against Eastern Washington, this year, she had amassed one career kill.

Fontes credits friends, family and local fans with keeping her going strong on and off the court.

"People really don't realize how much time and hard work it takes to play at this level and I personally believe it has made me stronger mentally and physically," she said. "It's great that I have such a wonderful support system not only from my friends and family, but from the community, that's what keeps me going."

Another local UND athlete who worked hard but still had to wait to get his moment in the spotlight is UND football player Garret Reineke. He and the football team are set to take on Portland State at 1:30 p.m., at the Alerus Center for the annual UND Homecoming game.

Recruited as a walk-on player out of nearby Thompson, N.D. — a few miles south of Grand Forks off of Interstate 29 — Reineke has bided his time to get his chance to show what he can do. This season, during spot duty as linebacker on an upstart defense that his turning heads weekly, Rieneke is making the most of his opportunity with an intensity that has led to several tackles for loss on opposing players.

Reineke, the son of James and Tracy Reineke and an all-state football and basketball player for Thompson High School, said the wait has been worth it for the chance to live out a dream.

"I've always been going to (UND) games, and watching the games," Reineke recently said on Midco Televisions Sports Extra show. "I've always been a big fan. It wasn't a hard choice. I always wanted to play here."

Reineke is majoring in physical education, exercise Science and wellness.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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